Tag Archives: present tense

A Highschool Story: Ms. Young

I don’t often couch stories with extraneous information, but here it seems relevant. If you’re not interested, please continue on to the story, which I feel is just as good without.

My friends know (my family may not) that I loathed Plano with every inch of my being while I was there. It started with the classroom and moved further out to the manicured lawns and streets. My entire sentient life there I spent attempting to leave in one form or another. Not the least reason for my frustration was my consistent poor performance in school.

That’s not to say that I tried really hard and failed. I hardly tried and rarely failed, but I was always looking for something that just didn’t seem to be there. Who knows at this point what it might have been, but as my life has progressed, I think the desire has morphed into a search for a mentor, for somebody to believe in me or perhaps just see me for my potential. Teachers, for all their intentions, seem to me incapable of fulfilling this role. I discuss this more in an article on Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti’s Tant Mieux, but suffice to say that teachers have to concern themselves more with your test scores than your potential out of mere practicality.

Some have argued with me, saying that my English teachers’ collective challenge to my ability could have been applied reverse psychology, hoping to make me shape up by telling me that half-assing it wouldn’t cut it. Perhaps if the fact of my performance in the classroom had been limited to one or two teachers, or even to five, I might agree that it’s possible. However, I nearly failed every English course I ever took in high school, I actually failed the only English course I took in college, and the closest course to an English course in my post-grad work is the closest one in which I came close to receiving less than an A.

Another theory, posed by no one who knows me but one I have to pose just to prove the example, is that I can’t think critically. Since I don’t cover all of the angles to any given topic, I deserve my low grade because it’s symptomatic of half-assed work. Well, my work history in addition to standardized test scores disagree with this theory, and hopefully there’s ample proof on this blog alone that such is not the case.

I posit, therefore, that English teachers simply didn’t understand. They didn’t see the promise in my essays not because it didn’t exist but because their academic dogmatism kept them tied to more traditional approaches (those things very near plagiarism that was call “essays,” as much a violation of intellectual property–even if the owner is long dead–as any basic example of unsolicited remix). Call me arrogant if you want, sure, and empty of promise, but in my opinion, English rooms are sterile and stifling environments that squelch creativity and independent thought. I have no love for them at all and, as soon as I had the choice in my academic career, avoided them to what I consider my benefit.

Of course, what’s happened here is that I’ve moved from loathing Plano and it’s English departments to loathing English teachers in general. Baylor had nothing to do with the PISD, and Emerson College in Boston, MA certainly bears no connection. So what do I do with this leftover rage towards Plano, most of which was tied up in my inability to make my peers there understand either my frustration with them or merely my simplest thoughts, a basic communication dilemma that continues to exist to this day? Well–and fuck you, Mani–I still hate Plano, even if I can forgive it this slight little bit.

**

Though in the English hall and an English classroom or Jasper High School, I chose Creative Writing because Ms. Young sold me its distinct image. Her classroom buzzed with energy because of her youth and zeal; unmarried and unburdened by the relentless years of classroom experience that weather away the beautiful composite face comprised of the students who supply her reason for having chosen education as a career, she’s decided to teach a course no other teacher felt willing to shoulder but which helped Plano appear more well-rounded. I’ve never found diversity (especially of thought) in an English classroom, but I decided to give her new course a shot.

Fifteen minutes before the bell rings, Ms. Young asks everyone to stop writing and requests that someone read the work they had accomplished that day. I look around at all the other students, a few of whom keep their eyes down while others look around like I do; white faces all around. No one looks at Ms. Young while she scans the room, afraid to volunteer by eye contact. She really is quite pretty with her long, thick brown hair and her pale but hopeful eyes. Her mouth hangs slightly open as her head turns from side to side, and her body, red sweater, and brown skirt are motionless. When I look away from her, my eyes land on the inspirational poster on the door about walking in footprints on the beach; I roll my eyes, keep my head down.

Marissa leans over and puts her hand on my shoulder so she can whisper, “You shouldn’t be afraid.”

I don’t turn my head to look at her, but I smirk. “Neither should you.”

“I’m not. I didn’t write anything.” I can imagine her crafty smile, resting lightly upon her pretty but slightly scarred face. She’s allergic to her own sweat, which causes her face to constantly break out. I look over my shoulder to make sure it’s there, pleading with me like I expect.

We chuckle quietly together, and I resign to volunteer. I can’t quite claim an alpha personality, and my decision doesn’t really stem from a desire to save Marissa from potential embarrassment. I feel compelled to end inefficiency in how my class spends its time when the silence drags on vulgarly.

Ms. Young smiles at me while I tremble in front of the class, my nerves suffering under a weird mix of terror and excitement. There’s only twelve students scattered amongst the tables in the classroom. I know everyone in here by name. I shouldn’t feel scared of them.

A wizard stands on a cliff ledge overlooking a village that trusted him for protection. (Already the shaking has subsided.) The flames from the village are strong enough to light his face, scarred more than wrinkled, experienced more than wise. (I forget the classroom; only the page and my scrawl exist.) He has failed them; he wants to shoulder their burden, the weight of his failure measured out by the ashes of burnt homes and the bodies of murdered victims, but finds himself unable. (I am the wizard; no, I am his sorrow and his guilt. No, I am the world he wants to bear. No.) His arms reach towards the stars as he screams out a long, undulating cry to the heavens: “I’m sorry!” (I’d never make it as an actor; I’m suddenly conscious of the other students again.) He leans forwards, finds himself capable after all.

I beam with pride. Students applaud lightly and nervously, not really sure about what they’ve just heard. Marissa smiles, the vain Catholic. The bell rings, and she and the other students bolt. I return to my seat and shove the paper in haphazardly.

“I don’t get it,” says Ms. Young.

I answer her quietly: “I know.” I’m not sure she hears me.

I leave the classroom without discussing the story with her. It wasn’t complicated, or maybe it was, but at any rate my mind had rushed to other subjects than my creation. Ms. Young had implied a request for me to breakdown the story; she had asked for me to treat it like literature and explain it to her. She claimed that she didn’t understand, but could she really not have? I wonder briefly, Can my incomprehensibility cover my life to such an extent as to umbrella every instance of  communication, both the fantastic and the academic?

I leave the carpeted English corridor and emerge over the polished tile of the hallway. In front of me, a metal banister splits the stairway in half. I approach it and rest my right hand on it, looking at the reflection of a florescent light obscured by my head and shoulders, the floor too opaque to show my reflection in detail. The bell rings for class to begin, but I’m lost in thought and not the type of student who frets over punctuality anyway.

English teachers pose literature as my nemesis with their superficial questions and their polite challenges and impolite grading, but I know truth doesn’t reside in rebellion. I don’t want to feel the weight of the world of ideas in my mind or to criticize anyone’s arrangement of words in an educated manner, but not because I don’t enjoy reading or thinking. Actively engaging a story takes away the passive pleasure of reading it, and I’m content with the passive pleasure, aren’t I, the satisfaction of writing, of reading, of thinking abstractly without criticizing specifically? I would have to submit to my formally recognized enemy, my teachers, if I engaged a work actively, wouldn’t I?

I’ve been told that by imposing academic structure on my mind, I will broaden my understanding of the world and multiply the number of subjects I can ponder. But the fact of the matter is—as I prove when I sit in the reigning creative silence of Ms. Young’s room—that I can hardly get my mind to shut up. The last thing I need from it is coherent categorical thoughts.

I utter words and phrases that apparently only I can understand. I formulate ideas that only I can stomach, only my tongue decipher. I’m not convinced that educating myself in the manner my teachers have suggested will help them understand me. Not only do I doubt their conjectures, I feel almost certain they are wrong.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Fiction, Humanistic, Writing

Theme Thursday: Cleanliness

I know that school is starting up and that it puts a crunch on readership both to see the site and too contribute. The majority of readers are either students or teachers at one level of education or another (and I, myself, am a student). Participate when you can, and no hard feelings if you miss a week or five.

Also remember, though, that this is not a commercial publication and that while around three hundred people may see your entry, it doesn’t have to consistently be your best. I won’t chew you out for posting something raw one week, and the entries–as some were two weeks ago–can be as short as a sentence or as long as a fully flushed-out essay. There’s no structure to this game other than theme, and you shouldn’t concern yourself too much with making sure that your submission is crystal clear and flawless.

Thank you for all of the new entries, contributors, and I look forward to this new week of posts!

This week’s theme: Cleanliness

It’s next to godliness. Perhaps I could’ve saved it for spring, but now seems as good a time as any!

Also, a narrative follows, to make you feel a little dirty.

Guidelines

The only right I assume from you posting a comment is that I am able to host your work on this blog for non-commercial purposes with attribution. You keep all other rights.

I do have plans to attempt to monetize this site once the boulder rolls a little further down hill, but at this point there are NO ASSUMPTIONS OF COMMERCIAL RIGHTS. I will contact authors on an individual basis for any and all commercial purposes.

Make the entries as short or as long as you want, and any genre is fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry. Publish in comments stories, no matter how polished or raw, according to the game of the week. If I like your story, I’ll contact you and ask for permission to remix your work, which I’ll post with the next week’s contest.

You have one week to submit your story, and please, please do. I don’t want this site to be my literary masturbation. Join me, and perhaps get some free editing and mentoring along the way!

**

The original (authored by Mani):

I had sex in public, and the police officer told me that it was a felony of the the third degree. Homedepot ended up throwing away the mattress and we were never allowed to return.

The remix:

I held her right hand with my left and carried the bag over my shoulder. The heat in the Texas parking lot made the air shiver with energy. My palm sweated against hers, but that wasn’t what had me excited.

Some of the store clerks looked at us oddly as we passed, but they must’ve assumed the bag was a return since they went back about their business. Her middle finger tickled my palm, and as I looked over at her, she smiled. Her head tucked down, and she used her other hand to pull her long brown hair back. The shame excited her, I could tell, but I didn’t feel ashamed. We were about to put on a hell of a show.

Orange metal framed our experience as we worked deeper into the store. The stale, conditioned air settled in around, making the moisture in my hand tingle. I could also trace goosebumps rolling along the nape of her neck, all the way up under the sensitive skin of her earlobe.

I resisted the temptation to look at the wares as we walked past saws, and I had to pull her past the home decoration section. My hand tugged on hers, and in our briefly connected eyes I saw her desire to escape, to check it out at least before we did the deed. But I wasn’t having any of her guff; we were here for a chore, and by God we were goin’ to do it.

The smell of cedar protected the wood section from the harsh sterile scent of the store. My chest swelled with invigoration and pride, and I gripped her hand a little tighter. A small unsure smile curved her lips. She wouldn’t be so shy in a minute, not after I had my hands on her hips.

I threw down the air mattress and got to work. Pump in, pull out, pump in, etc. At first she looked around to make sure no one was coming–she even giggled, probably at the funny little thought of getting caught. She slipped into boredom as I checked the firmness of the half-full mattress. She looked this way and that, wondering when I’d finish.

I looked her up and down as I continued to pump. The cheap and efficient white lights hung so far overhead flattened out her features, made her look like a model for any of the company’s photo advertisements. I could see the skin of her stomach complaining about the coolness of the store, much like her neck had done. The daisy dukes revealed her legs the same, her muscles dimpled with tiny bumps. Flat and bumpy, that’s how she looked.

When she leaned back against the wood-covered rack, I decided that enough was enough. I grunted at her and held out my right hand, which she took in hers. I pulled her into me and gave her a rough kiss that nearly consumed her gentle lips. She pushed against me with her hands, straining to get away and not to kiss me back; I had known it wasn’t what she wanted, but fuck what she wants. This is about me.

She started to curse when she finally got away, but the tough yank as her shirt pulled tight against her back shut her up quick. The fabric didn’t tear at the seams like I had expected but rather down the front, exposing her black bra and tight stomach. She gasped as I wrestled the rest off as if it were a vest, her arms yielding in surprise as the jersey fabric tugged down her arms.

My left hand had already penetrated her shorts, and she fell to the ground, her legs limp with shock. Instead of moaning, she ground her teeth and looked away. Well, fuck it: this isn’t about her anyway.

I bit the nape of her neck hard, perhaps too hard in my excitement: I tasted blood. Heedless, my left hand pushed aside loose skin and rough hair as my right fumbled for the button of her shorts and I bit my way down her chest. I clenched my teeth on the front-clasp of her bra until it unlocked, slapping me in the nose after pulling at my lips.

I could feel fear set in as her skin cooled under my touch. She had agreed to this, but I had seen her wavering all the way from the car, from when I had first picked her up. Perhaps a movie, she had said. I could invite a friend to come film it. I scoffed a grunt as I finally undid her shorts, and then I ripped them off.

“Hey!” I heard a male voice scream. My head snapped up in his direction, and I saw surprise paint his face. He turned to the side and yelled, “Get security!” before turning back to me and saying, “You can’t do that here, man. This isn’t that kind of shop.”

“Why do you think I’m here?” I snarled. The girl reached for her bra and tried to pry her shorts from my hand.

“Seriously, you can’t–” he started, but we never finished.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Features, Fiction, Theme Thursdays, Writing

Unfinished vignettes

I’m exhausted after a beautiful and fun-packed weekend in NYC. Right now (@12:23AM), I’m riding the MegaBus back to Boston. Thank you Jerry and Esther for the hospitality, food, and company, and contratulations Sadi on your book release! 🙂

That’s all the intro I can come up with before I pass out. Seeking guest authors. Remember Theme Thursday.

**

You get up from the pew in church. For a moment, the briefest moment, you wonder whether all of the people around you have a better grasp on what worship is, on what love is, on what God is. You tell yourself that you’ll get to it later, and without realizing it, without saying the truth to yourself out in your mind, you know that you’ll never get around to it, that the question is one that you’ll never try to find an answer to, much less succeed at answering. But you know that without me telling you, and you think that I hate you because of your seeming apathy. But I know that despair hibernates in the darkness of your heart, stays in the bowels of your soul, coaxing you with lies that he is your best friend, that he is you, that he has been with you since the beginning. Why bother him in his slumber? He’s so peaceful there, like he has been all of your conscious life. And you think that I hate you for hiding your despair, in that one flash where you wonder whether people have a better grip on religion, on truth, on the light in their souls and you realize truly, loudly, that you are protecting your despair, that the darkness inside you is your despair, not your self. But I’ll tell you: No one has it better than you do in that one moment of questioning, that one moment of self-doubt. And then you put it away, like the other times in your life, so few, where despair had to be recognized as despair and could not be disguised as the self. You hide it, and your life goes on as if nothing ever happened. And you think these moments are unique, and that they’re yours alone, and that if you forget them then they have no significance. I’ll tell you: that’s our special struggle; that’s what it means to be a human in despair.

You feel yourself impelled towards crisis. You are a creature of habit: you prefer your side of the bed; you prefer a select group of restaurants; you think within the boundaries of a specific paradigm and refuse to consider others. You know this about yourself, and yet you feel impelled towards crisis. But that’s what your college years were for, those times dripping with the epiphanic. You’ve defined yourself. You have a self. Why, then, the impellation? You grab a beer, but you’ve been here before, drinking away the dull ache of recognized meaninglessness. Still, you grab a beer, and another. You want to fuck, but only to fuck. You want to engage in the animalistic. You masturbate, but it’s not enough. Still, you’re a creature of habit.

Frustration slides into your mind. Repetition loses its significance, becomes insignificant; the constant degradation of existing things from near-perfection to gross imperfection grates on your mind. You sweep the floors, you wash your dishes, you iron your shirts, and still they become filthy, dirty, wrinkled. For the briefest moment, you wonder whether your cathartic journaling practice is enough to keep your soul clean. You do it as cyclically as you clean your house, and yet your home always seems in at least mild disrepair tending towards its own undoing. Is there a parallel between the way your house and your soul tend towards realized imperfection? Is it inescapably natural, an irresistible and universal pull, like falling into your natural place in the world? Keep sweeping; that conviction will fade soon.

You find again, though you’d forgotten, that you’re unaware how much you’re worth in material value. You’ve received a job offer, and they want to know how much you think you’re worth so that they can gauge a reasonable offer that’s hopefully less than the maximum they’ve already agreed upon. You know that they’re out to screw you without letting you see how hard they’ve done it, and you’ve done your research for the median price of a person with your skill set and experience, and now it’s down to the moment. You have to give a number that’s high enough to be negotiated down to the price you want but low enough that they’ll take your offer seriously. You wonder why companies don’t just offer a salary anymore. HR departments do the research on how much a person in your position should be paid; why do you have to haggle with them based on research you’ve gathered from bureaus who research statistics generated by HR departments? You ask yourself why they have to ask you what you think you’re worth. But you know the answer to that question; you’re frustrated that you have to equate your worth in material value. Just utter a number; it’s not that big of a deal. Whatever they offer you in return, you can survive on. You need the job—you wouldn’t have gone through all of the hooplah to get it if you didn’t—and the salary will tell you your worth without you having to know. It will at least compare with your old paycheck. Tell yourself that it’s just money; it’s only indirectly a reflection of you. HR departments are much more objective about this decision anyway.

You lost your job. Don’t cry. You’re ashamed, and you know it. You’ve lost a key affirmation for your character. Don’t cry. Wonder how you lost it. Should you have seen it coming? Were you really the worst employee around, the least significant, the most unworthy of your paycheck? Was it a matter of expediency? Does your work ethic reflect your inefficiency, and is that a lack of manliness? Don’t cry. Put that idealistic bullshit away. Find another job. You’ve got money saved up, at least three months. You haven’t asked your parents for anything in years. Your friends will understand; they’ll pity you, which will make it worse, but they’ll understand. Don’t cry. You’ve been independent for years. You haven’t required another person’s help for years. Charity comes in small doses through life, and you haven’t used your reserve. You’ve let it accumulate, and now you can call upon it, draw the account if need be. Find another job. Everything will be alright.

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A Relationship in Presents, Part Six: The debt

No format yet because my ‘net connection is really crappy. I still wanted to get the post up, though.

Mixed reviews about the megabus. Cheap tickets, leg room are good. Crappy customer service, poor website design, and nonfunctioning internet connection are bad. More to come.

Email me if you’re in NYC and want to meet up for coffee/drinks this weekend or if you want to attend Sadi’s book launch! 🙂

**

We enter the restaurant. A hostess grabs our attention, leads us to a nearby booth. Dark wood surrounds us. Small chandeliers light the open rooms well enough.

She tries to look into my eyes as I slide into the same bench as her, but she can’t look deeply enough. I rest my feet on the empty bench across the table. My head rolls towards her, and she looks away. The fingers of both her hands click idly against the table.

I’ve looked forward to my birthday dinner for a few weeks. Charley’s is one of my favorite haunts. Their coke tastes so good that mixing in rum almost damages it, so I don’t. After an awkward moment, the waitress brings by a full uncut dome of bread. My left lip lifts in a smile as she sets the basket on the table.

I had brought Sarah here for the first time years ago. She had noticed confusion coloring my face and asked me what was wrong. “How are we supposed to eat it?” I had asked. She picked up the whole dome and wrenched off a bite with her teeth in answer.

Now I pick it up and tear it into quarters, careful not to smoosh it. I set a piece on her plate and one on mine. Sarah picks at the insides, leaving behind hollow crusts. I butter and eat it all.

I pinch her thigh through her sweatpants, and we laugh. She says, “You owe me over seven hundred dollars.” My hand drops to my side and my smile fades. I wonder if the amount will be more after tonight since I’m supposed to be the one who pays when we go out. I mutter an affirmation and wonder how I’m going to manage paying her back.

The waitress comes by, and I order our usual meals, mine a au poivre hamburger and her the angel hair primavera.  I had ordered the au poivre so long ago just to find out what twenty-five cents worth of browned onions tasted like, and I haven’t faltered since.

I say, “I’ll get a job soon, after school settles down. Just give me a few months.” But I haven’t worked, or even looked for work, since February. I put myself back past broke, back into maxed-out credit card debt, to participate in this relationship, but I can only handle so many Boston nights, so many trips to Seattle and Vegas and now, apparently, to Texas and DC soon, soon.

She sighs. Her hand falls on mine, resting on the bench between us. She says that’s fine. The money she wants me to pay back isn’t even hers, is her father’s, who has two planes and nine cars and bought a new house so that he could rip down and rebuild his old one. It’s hard for me to imagine that he wants those few hundred dollars back, but maybe he does. Maybe it’s Sarah’s way of coaxing me off of the computer and back into the real world. Maybe she just doesn’t like the idea of me living off of her father like she does.

“I didn’t get you a present this year,” she says. Her tone is flat, perhaps unconcerned with my reaction, perhaps hyperconcerned. Even after four years of dating, seven years of friendship, it’s hard for me to tell.

I reply that it’s fine. There’s the vacations we’re taking together, Steve’s upcoming wedding, and so on. Something fundamental has changed, but I don’t think about it. Even while we’re sitting here eating, my mind is on things other than Sarah; what job I’m going to try and find, my new responsibilities as a guild officer in my video game, whether or not I’ll sleep on the couch tonight. I haven’t slept in Sarah’s bed in months.

I try Charley’s apple pie with cheese because I saw it in Thank You for Smoking and have wondered how it tasted ever since. Sarah and I walk home hand in hand. When we get there, she turns on the TV and grumbles about her how laptop’s power cord is broken. I settle under my laptop for the night and don my headset.

Around two in the morning, she asks me whether I’m going to come down tonight. I take off my headset and ask her to repeat herself. Then I say soon, which we both know means no. She goes downstairs to sleep. Around two in the afternoon, when she usually wakes up on her off days, my eyes close. I just manage to put my laptop on the ground before I’m asleep, swallowed up in couch cushions.

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A Relationship in Presents, Part Five: The red dog

There’s an interesting discussion of how readers approach posts in this blog in the last post, if you’d like to participate. I also wonder how readers are seeing the posts in this series as style pieces; how do these pieces read differently to you, and what do you think the artistic point is?

Remember to leave stories for this week’s Theme Thursday! We had seven posts for the very first game last week, and I’d like to see that number beat! I’ve also finished the remix of the piece I selected from last week’s games, and I’m really looking forward to showing it to you! 🙂

**

Behind the black bars of the waist-high fence, it pouted at me as if a real dog, kenneled. The red fur looked to me like passion in faux crushed velvet. The synthetic material crowded around the plastic eyes like desire would do to me if it could, if I weren’t buried so deeply down in depression to render it helpless, a child in a well slipping against a wall he thought he could scale.

Its face asked me about abandonment, whys and what could it dos and reallys. He wanted to come along, but I wouldn’t have it. I didn’t even wait to see the arguments played out in the stuffed, unreal face.

“Why do you stay with her?” Renisha had asked me. We worked across Summer Street from each other, me at a financial corporation doing client communications and she social networking, and we met in a Starbucks caddycorner to our separate offices. “Why do you stay with her?” she asked. “You don’t have to.”

The answer was true and horrible and romantic. Like a trumpet call to start a military dirge, it bounded forth, monosyllabic and haunting. I couldn’t maintain eye contact while it hung in the air, but I saw her face drop to the table in my peripheral, expressing a mixture of pity and disgust spiced with a moment of wonder about whether love really boils down to my response. The table had no answer for her, and neither did I. As the relationship with Sarah wore on, my friendship with Renisha waned, forever stealing her chance to solve my riddle.

My love for Sarah held within it a paradox, that I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible and yet every moment I spent with her was spent not-quite-with her. And yet her very real absence from our time together made me want to spend even more time with her, up to the point where I cut out all other engagements. The downward spiral had started in the summer we first moved in together, months before that February meeting with Renisha, when Sarah and I ran out of Grey’s Anatomy episode to watch and so she moved into Solitaire.

Her laptop. My laptop. A 64” HDTV. Free Cell. Nintendo emulations. Family Fued.

“You don’t have to stay with her, you know,” Justin had said. He had come up for New Years to see us and gone home. The Thanksgiving after, when I told him that I was breaking down under he relationship, my very real dog resting on the purple microfiber chair to my right behind which the red dog had been stuffed, he told me, “You don’t have to stay with her.” I told him that I loved her, and when he asked if I was sure, I said yes. But I also told him I was breaking down.

You spin the wheel in the teacup ride at Disneyworld, and the cup spins round and round. The tangent force pulls you towards the chair, and you grab harder, pulling yourself forward and spinning, spinning. Eventually your arms fail, and the custodians tell you to stop, and the cup breaks off the ride and takes you for a horrible, unrestrained trip across the theme park, trampling families and employees and cute little crafted bushes, eventually tossing you into the castle’s pond where you drown, destitute and broken. No, nothing breaks; that’s your short little dream before the ride stops and you get ushered out of the cup, at which point you can rejoin the line if you choose or perhaps get a bite to eat.

Sarah said, “You didn’t have to do that,” when I held out her Valentine’s Day present, Lindt chocolate truffles from the store in the hotel two blocks away and a bottle of vodka with a penguin on it. She collected penguins like an obsession. I once, as a child, told friends and families that I was collecting piggy banks, an admission I always regretted, especially after I stopped my collection. Sarah had no regrets.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, and I love you,” I answered, slightly confused. The presents remained in my hand, unwrapped except for an unmarked brown bag and a Lindt plastic bag with a drawstring.

“You just didn’t have to do it is all.” She took the presents, put the vodka on her Crate and Barrel foldable bar. She kept the chocolates in her right hand but picked up a brown box with her left. “This is from my mother.”

A dog toy, a little squeezable thing. Kallion doesn’t play with toys.

“Excellent,” I said before grinding my teeth. Yes, I had bought my presents late, the night of, but it began to dawn on me that she hadn’t bought a present at all.

“I’m stuck,” I told Renisha over a sip of cinnamon cappuccino.

“You’re not,” she answered. “Why don’t you go stay with Shoshanna? You know she’d let you.”

“No dogs allowed,” I said. We paused, thinking. “Is it pathetic that I’m staying with Sarah because of my dog, like parents who won’t divorce because of the children?”

“Yes,” she answered. “It is. Your dog is not your child.”

I put the empty box by the trashcan behind the bar and tried to coax Kalli into playing with the new toy, which she ignored. Sarah watched for a moment and then went downstairs. When she came back up, I had already put myself under my computer and logged into World of Warcraft. She put on her coat from the cheap Target coat stand by the door and left without a word.

Sarah walked down Exeter to Newbury without pausing at Commonwealth—she had already taken pictures of them covered in snow—and then she walked to Fairfield. Inside, she picked up some candy from the seasonal aisle before spotting a red stuffed dog hiding on the banister above the turn in the stairwell to the basement. Retrieving it, she concluded her purchase and returned home, dropping the white plastic bag marked CVS and a large stuffed dog on the couch beside me.

Internally, I scoffed. Externally, I thanked her, petting the cheap, dusty material. I wiped my hand on my pants. She sat down in her chair and refreshed Facebook, and I continued playing World of Warcraft. Ten minutes later, I started to raid, and when I started talking on the microphone with the other players, Sarah rolled her eyes, unplugged her laptop, and went downstairs into her bedroom. As with most nights for the past few months and most to follow, I would sleep on the couch.

When I moved out, I left that red dog behind the fence under the construction docks of the building on the far side of Exeter and Commonwealth, under renovation. I mused whether a construction worker might take it, might give it to a child who could take some joy in the thing. Sarah had set aside effects in a box, items that I had given her that she didn’t want to keep and held no meaning to me: a coffee cup that read Bean, some dog toys, the red dog.

I remembered Justin’s words as I looked at that stuffed animal behind the fence. You don’t have to stay with her, he had said. I mean, I wouldn’t leave her—she’s rich and pretty and funny—but you don’t have to stay. All the pitiful and pathetic moments infected by thoughts like that, a relational virus. Just so, the dog pleaded with me to stay. But I walked away. I wouldn’t engage; I would only remember.

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A Relationship in Presents, Part Four: The waffle press redux

No apologies for the late post. Muaha.

**

Near hysteria, I plod through my parents’ attic. I can tell I’m losing it, that I’m on the verge of tears. My mother calls up the stairs wanting to know what the hell is going on. My father doesn’t know what to say.

“I’m looking for the waffle iron,” I say. I choke up. I’ve thrown boxes helter-skelter across the attic. I’ve taken out the box with all my college kitchen stuff out of the attic and emptied it of its contents all the way down to the newspaper coating the bottom in the TV room. It was the dishes clanking together as I unconcernedly scattered them across the floor that really set my mom off; Dad had watched silently, confused and almost afraid.

“Where is it?” I yell, hurting my throat. The closer I get to tears, the more obviously I glottal.

“We don’t know,” my father answers. They haven’t taken it out of my boxes, they say. They’ve been on a no-carb diet for months, maybe years, and even if they were going to eat something like that, my father would make pancakes; they haven’t had waffles in years.

I can’t have left it behind, I say to myself and aloud accusatorially, but the finger is pointing at me despite my parents’ premonitions. I can’t have left it behind! I remember taking it out of the kitchen and putting it in the fucking box, don’t I? Of course I remember doing it! It’s fucking ridiculous to think I’d’ve left it behind.

Gabe wouldn’t have taken it, would he? I remember that day he cooked with my garlic clove and wouldn’t fess up to it. When he…. Oh, this line of thought isn’t going anywhere; Gabe didn’t take it. Justin wouldn’t’ve taken it. I either brought it home or I left it at Baylor. And I didn’t leave it behind, so it’s here, somewhere.

I rip through the boxes again, even when my mother’s anger becomes tinted with fear. “It’s just a waffle iron,” she says. “You can buy another one and she’ll never know.” But it’s not Sarah’s opinion of me I’m worried about, though I certainly wouldn’t want to confess to her that I’d lost it; No, I want it for myself. I want the waffle maker, that one fucking thing, and I fucking lost it!

I tear down the stairs like a shot, leaving my parents to stare over the mess. I hear my mother say in a very loud note of command, “Oh no!” once she hears her pots and pans clanging out onto the floor. She moves into the living room and calls me in there as if I were her dog, and I obey.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asks incredulously.

“I’m looking for the god damned waffle maker!” I shout. A tear falls down my left cheek, and she sees it.

“Why does it matter so much?” she asks.

“’Cuz she….” My voice trails off, dead. My brain stops for a moment, and more tears fall. “’Cuz she gave it to me,” I finally answer, turning to go back into the kitchen.

“Well we don’t have it!” she calls after me even though there’s not even a wall separating us. “It’s not in our kitchen! And you’ll have to clean up whatever you take out!”

I’m not worried about threats of cleanliness, though. All that matters is recovering the waffle press. She gave it to me so long ago, before we were even dating, and it’s all falling apart, falling away. I have to find it. If I can find it, everything will be alright, will be okay again.

I pull out all the pots and pans in the cabinets under the silverware, set them out on the tile. I look under the stove on the island, but there’s nothing except grilling equipment. I look under coffee maker, under the sink, in all the miscellaneous drawers and cabinets. Nothing, nothing, nothing! Where the fuck is it? my voice screams inside my head, echoing through my brain as if it were a stone valley, causing an avalanche of sanity, a loss of control.

My tears fall in earnest, now. I can barely see the objects my hands put aside, only dimly aware that each one isn’t what I’m looking for. I start to move towards the oven, to the drawer underneath it. My parents keep ovenware in there, stones and oven proof pots and my father’s electric… electric skillet.

I slow down in my stride. My eyes flicker in and out of squinting as the pieces move into place, the memory resurfaces of making my parents waffles while waiting to leave for Europe, my mother asking me how I clean the surface since we can’t put it in the dishwasher, her balking expression when I tell her that I don’t, that I don’t clean it.

The drawer glides along the wheels that hold it up as I pull it open. I see it immediately, behind a stone basin made to cook a turkey and on top of my father’s electric skillet. They haven’t had waffles in years, he said; it’s been years since I made them wafflecakes, panwaffles, panfles. The press isn’t Belgian, no, it only makes small dimples in the pancakes. The last time my parents had waffles was when I made them some on Sarah’s press after I came home from college.

Don’t call it my press, Sarah always said to me when I referred to her presents as hers. I told her that I called them her presents because they were so obviously from her, so perfect and timeless. Sarah’s press. I found it under the oven.

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1:34 AM Ramblings

I’m an editor—I’ve freelanced for years—but I’ve often supplemented my freelance income with another gig. Why? Because freelancing works like real estate: huge surges of business connected by deep lulls. The surges often match my attempts to market myself, but hey, guess what: a full-time grad student, part-time worker, part-time editor doesn’t have much time or inclination to market himself. Time and money are both limited. When school starts up again this fall, I won’t have all the time on my hands that I had to start this blog, and what then will I do to find freelance work, then when I need it most but also lack the time to market myself?

Supplementary jobs have entered my mental horizon. I really don’t mind Starbucks as a job, except for the people who take it very seriously and always manage, against what seems my good judgment, to get in positions of power. Starbucks is the job I would prefer over many others if I have to work a structured job at all. The obvious: low hassle, low responsibility, the people (customers and coworkers) are friendly and don’t expect much; you get tips, and you get paid above minimum wage. But there’s always waiting tables, which shares any of these qualities except the low hassle, which you trade for a gigantic upgrade in pay. ($11/hr after tips to, I dunno, $16/hr if you’re at a place even nearly worth its tables). So why do I prefer Starbucks?

People. I enjoy people, despite whatever contrary opinions these blog posts may have given you. Or, more than people, I enjoy conversation; rich, deep conversation that doesn’t have a purpose, point, or motivation. During my tens and my lunches I go sit out in the lobby instead of in the back, and on more than one occasion my shift has had to come find me because I got so sidetracked that I forgot my break was over. Sometimes the store is dead (hence, the break) and it doesn’t matter that I’ve forgotten in the grand scheme of things; sometimes the person is one of those who is very serious about their work and feels that a speech is necessary to make me toe the line [y’know, that’s one of the weirdest phrases, a stereophone cliche where both images work]. Well, it’s a free country, and speech is a free as it comes, but there’s a point where investment is almost guaranteed not to match return; sometimes business maxims apply to social settings.

More than that, I enjoy having a home outside of home where I can get free coffee, free food, and time for homework without distraction, am in fact encouraged to do this work because I already work there and because the other people around make me feel connected to the human network in a way that I normally don’t. Further, I do continue to shop with Starbucks even while I don’t work there (a fact escalated by fewer and fewer nearby cafes that aren’t Starbuckses), which means I know which products I like and that I can enjoy them in peace. When school starts back up, Starbucks would condone my writing/blogging, which will conduce with my courses in a way editing never would. There’s not enough time in the world for us to pursue all of the things we find interest in, and in the interest of calibrating my life to maximum pleasure and retaining of information, Starbucks is the better choice.

Not that I’m going back to Starbucks—Ashley has specifically asked me not to—but these are the thoughts that go through my head when I consider my need for supplemental income. Therefore, don’t take this post personally; I’m not sharing it with you so that you’ll pity my situation. Consider it art, in your own way.

On those notes (of income and art), today, August 7, is my birthday. Reading this blog, you’ve learned plenty about me, my work, and my literary vision and aspirations. Now act on that compulsion you feel to click the button and buy me a cup of coffee or even a beer! ☺

**

I’m exhausted. I’m tired, I’m broke, I’m sad. I’m in love, I’m loved.

I’m happy.

I’ve run out of cash and I don’t know how to fix it. Get a job; I don’t want to settle for a job.

We talk about finances, Ashley and I. My face droops. She can’t stand it; puts her hand against my cheek and asks me to go in the other room. She’s not serious. She can’t stand the idea of me being sad, can’t bear to look on my face, its non-frown.

I gave my father a hard time once, when he got laid off and cried in front of his church fellows. I didn’t give him a hard time for crying; rather for praying.

My relationship with Ashley is the greatest proof of providence I’ve ever seen. Our lives fell together seamlessly without complaint; though money is tight, it’s never not enough.

This month it might not be enough.

I took her to New York for a weekend at the beginning of June. She hates that I regret the decision. It inspired her, made her decide that New York was her future independent of our future, of my future. I know now that New York is my future, too. That trip solidified the suspicions, or Sade had, and I took the trip to make sure.

The church leader asked me if he could lay hands on me. My father had taken me on the men’s retreat; I had seen him cry in earnest. My father looked away when the pastor put his hand on my shoulder, asking again. I didn’t want to be rude, and I had hope.

We go on dates. Our financial irresponsibility lies in going on dates. About once every other week, we drop about twenty dollars on not making a meal at home or maybe a bottle of wine to make my cooking seem more legitimate. My peers are broke, too, working those college jobs at pizza shops and bookstores. Why don’t I just get one of those?

I want a job at a call center. I’ve never worked at one before, but I have friends that do. They complain about all their free time. That’s what I need; a job that will pay me to write, to blog, to edit. I need supplement.

I’ve worked at Starbucks four times now, three months a piece four different times. Once as a teenager in Frisco’s Super Target where we couldn’t accept tips and yet we did, hiding the makeshift cup behind the counter when the store manager came by. Twice after college, once in Plano before the disagreement with my parents and then again when I lived at Steve’s. Once again in Boston, when I had decided to move out of Sarah’s place. Starbucks isn’t the bottom of the rung, that’s for sure. But my pride won’t let me crawl back, not for a fifth turn.

The hands felt alien through my clothing, like cotton was touching me, my shirt pressing against me, clinging against me. They prayed. They asked me what I wanted from God. I said to know; I wanted to know, to have the gift of faith. They prayed.

Fidelity paid me once to sit around. I was with Sarah, sad and lonely and bored. They paid me over thirty dollars an hour to just sit there with a smile on my face, maybe five hours of work a week. I couldn’t do it then; I complained, loudly. What weak part of me wants to do it now?

I’ve branched out through Twitter, found viewers, fans, colleagues. Some of them might have work I could take, could get. Maybe if I marketed myself as an editor with all my experience, I could cash in on the network. But I’d rather have readers; I’d rather get started as a writer, as my own writer, a writer of my own work and nobody else’s. I have no interest in journalism or in ghostwriting. I have no interest in selling what is most intensely and personally mine.

I have the time now, during the summer, for a fulltime position. I started the blog instead. I’m busy all day now, checking, marketing, writing; I’m consumed. I’m not really employed, not gainfully employed. I can’t, this month, contribute equally to the household.

My Sweet Hunk O’ Trash plays, Louis Armstrong & Billie Holiday. Ashley laughs from the sink while I work, I edit, I check. I’ll have to work all weekend to meet this already missed deadline. Ashley laughs, and so do I. I’m so in love; she smiles away the doldrums. Still, I’m sad; a worthless feeling permeates, settles inside my skin. I can feel it in the back of my shoulders; I can feel it weighing down my torso, bending my spine.

We can’t make rent if I don’t contribute. Ashley has been behind before, and I’ve covered her. She’s covered me as well. That’s what living together is, a give and take here and there. But she can’t cover me this month.

I cried. Their prayers turned into chants, into spells that swarmed my head. For days I would talk about the miracle, the surety and gift of faith. It would fade, and Mani would hate me for it. No, not hate; he’d mourn my religion, resent the loss of passion in a friend so dependably constant. I’d cry again as despair settled back into place, back into the home it had never left.

I want to give her everything she wants. I want to love her like she should be loved. I want to contribute, to avoid leeching off something so young, so tender, so savory sweet. I love her, but I can’t provide, not now.

Though I have the time now, I can’t really get a job. In two months, I’ll be out of time, a full-time student. I tell myself to suck it up and get that damn dayjob, but I won’t, I haven’t yet. The consideration is starting to filter through my pride, but it hasn’t won yet. I love her, I want to, I’m stubborn.

I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m lazy and exhausted. I’m demoralized. I’m the most hopeful I’ve ever been.

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