SOFT SPOT FOR THE RECKLESS

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Not having a place to live is a form of violence. The constant feeling of being something so other’d and letter’d that not even some empty space on the floor, let alone a couch, is something anyone can spare for you and your tired body and your tired mind and your tired heart. The constant feeling of hunger. Not just for food, but for kindness or a moment to wash clean and clear the mind. The constant paranoia of running out of options or time or friends or constructive thoughts. The constant needling in the heart and head about poor choices and how “if only” should be tattooed on your forehead for all to see and read as a warning for every interaction.

++++++

I didn’t really know Smitty, he was a friend of Chongo’s and a friend of the Professor. I only knew what I thought I knew—he and Chongo apparently pulled a dopey-as-fuck heist on the place Chongo and I worked at and stole a few thousand dollars, he was a junkie-in-training, his mother was a shrink and they had some money—and even that knowledge didn’t line up for a bingo when he killed himself. There were stories, obviously, but I never knew what to believe once Chongo got high and started to spin yarn. One minute he’d be telling me about the visions he had, the next he’d be telling me about how he wanted to sing like Craig Wedren from Shudder To Think, and then he’d tell me tales about Smitty. The Professor never talked about Smitty, he’d stay quiet when Chongo would talk about him and then mumble something about talking to Smitty’s mom on the phone often and how he missed his friend.

++++++

Desperation makes people do terrible things they would never think they would do. When I was on the street I used to go to church fountains at night and fish out all the silver so I could stay in smokes and some food here and there. Other people’s wishes were my wish to eat. Other people’s loose change my staying off a hustle and away from possible jail time.

When was the last time you looked a totally desperate person in the eye?

You should do it. Go on.

++++++

When I was in Minneapolis this year for the big AWP writer’s conference thing, I noticed so many interesting things about my peers. I watched them slough off the homeless and the out-of-luck constantly. Minneapolis has a pretty large homeless community from what I saw, and because the conference was downtown, they were out and about, looking to see what they could get from people.

I didn’t see them get much.

There had been an article in the local paper talking about how the conference was going to infuse the local economy with millions of dollars. I watched people, that’s what I do. I watched people act like the people who were hungry were invisible. I watched people make faces at passed out people at bus stops. I watched people throw so much money around in a city that isn’t theirs and act like the locals who were asking for help had the fucking plague.

We can do better, indeed.

++++++

I was in Smitty’s house once, when the Professor was housesitting and a few of us went back there one night to drink and soak in the hot tub. I saw pictures of him as a little boy on the walls. I saw piles of envelopes with his mother’s handwriting on them, doodles and curses and monetary amounts. I saw his room, the way he left it, like that cliché that always shows up in a movie or television show where a child dies and the parent cannot accept or move forward. There was a guitar in the corner on a stand and I’m the kind of motherfucker who cannot resist picking up a guitar and playing on it, but as soon as my hand wrapped around the neck to lift it and play it, the Professor shouted at me to put it the fuck down.

“It’s his, dude. Don’t.”

++++++

I used to like to go sit in silence in bars full of ghosts when I had nowhere to sleep for the night. Something about watching other people trying to fuck or fight or destroy themselves made me feel less alone, less like the end was around the corner.

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I was sitting with a friend on a bench outside of her hotel talking while we waited for a buddy of mine from high school to show up. A guy was pacing back and forth and mumbling and trying to get my attention. I could feel him and his want and his need and so many other things. I knew he was coming to me, for me, and this was a scene that has happened and will continue to happen to me for ages and lifetimes and all time and space.

He started out by asking me if I had seen the video of the young man shot in the back by the police, asked me what was happening to our country, asked me why the police could get away with so much murder. I spoke to him openly, honestly, a little cautiously. We went back and forth on it for a while before he asked me for a smoke. I started to ask him questions—slowly at first—and he started to answer and started to stop and started to open up and started to get riled and I could feel every nerve in his body on fire and every emotion in his heart full of tears and fear and hunger. I kept on looking at my friend, to make sure she was okay, to make sure she was with me, to make sure she was witnessing.

++++++

Chongo somehow ended up with Smitty’s car, a rundown white Toyota Celica with torn seats and bad brakes. We’d drive around getting high and listening to Stevie Wonder and Chongo would pull into gas stations, fill up the car, and then drive off. We would drive up mountainsides and sit in the car and on the car and look at stars and get higher and higher and he would start to talk his magickal mumbo-jumbo shit about his visions and he would get quiet and pat the hood of the car and put his cheek on it and cry.

++++++

The guy’s name was Rob and he was on the street and the city was grinding him down and he would bounce between crying and laughing within the same breath. I got him to talk, and I got him to open all the way and tell me what his options were, where he could stay and where he could not. Rob kept on telling me how hard it was to be on the street, how I couldn’t possibly know what he was living. Then I told him. I told him and told him where I was from and everything shifted. He started to listen to me about maybe going to a church and asking them if they had room for a volunteer or someone to do work on the grounds. He told me about a shelter that was eighteen bucks a night and I slipped him some money and he looked me in the eye and I watched him well up and all of this was going on while people were walking by us and making faces, going about their business thinking the dollars they were spending were juicing the local economy.

When my high school friend started to walk up, Rob puffed up and said “that’s a bad dude, I don’t know if I like him,” but then I told him we’d known each other since we were kids and he lightened up and started laughing some more. Rob and my friend talked a bit and Rob loosened up again, but when he hugged me he said—loud enough for everyone—“You want me to do him? I’ll do him. For you.” We all laughed and Rob laughed and he asked me if he could speak to my friend and he told her she was beautiful and cool and then that was it—Rob was going to go to the shelter and get a bed and a hot meal and we were off to hang out in hotel bars with ghosts.

++++++

The story as I heard it is this: Smitty walked into a house party full of people from a bar he hung out at and walked right into the middle of the room and put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Nobody saw it coming and nobody thought he was really depressed and people just thought he was making a joke with a gun but then it went off and they went off to never be the same again. I never met nor did I know anyone who was at this party. I only knew two of his people, Chongo and the Professor. I only met the guy twice, if that, and I thought he was just a weird gangly kid with social anxiety. Rumors flew after, that he was a heroin dealer and he carried the gun because he was afraid to get robbed and he had been having a lot of trouble with women and had been beaten up by some dude for flirting with his girl and all sorts of other shit.

All I kept on thinking about was his mother. That poor fucking woman.

Still no idea how Chongo ended up with that car.

++++++

A few hours later I was getting into a cab outside of another hotel and I saw Rob, invisible to everyone around him, shuffling between people looking for butts to smoke.

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RIDE YOUR RIDE

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If we put three people in a room together and asked them to define loyalty or honor or respect, we’d get different answers from each one of them. Some of the answers might overlap and some of the answers might come out angry or defeated or even terrified of being seen.

We are living in the age of hyper-connectivity, but nobody is connecting.

******

I’ve been having panic attacks again. They keep starting in weird places inside of my body. Sometimes they start in the soles of my feet and feel like electric eels climbing up my Achilles and into my calves and then they explode like arcing light through my thighs and into my torso. Other times they start in my colon—a twitch or a gurgle that isn’t anticipated will happen and then everything inside of me goes dayglow and slithery—which isn’t a spot I am used to them beginning.

I am all out of my anxiety medication and I feel like that is a good thing. I feel like not relying on the pill as an act of desperation is a better option than me taking a pill and going fetal wherever I am until it kicks in and does the smoothing out thing. I want to feel it all right now. I want to sweat and convulse a little. I want to taste the pennies in my mouth and I want to feel the current in my limbs.

Ride your fucking ride.

******

I almost got married when I was nineteen years old. It was such a quick and wild thing, this sudden aloneness turning into impending marriage and all that. Everything was a blur. I remember telling my Senior Chief on the ship that I was flying to Arizona to get married and he looked at me like I was crazy and said “You have a girl? Had no clue.” My mother was stoked, because she really loved the girl. I loved the girl. My sister loved the girl. The girl, well, she fell in love with someone else before I could get back there and do the marrying thing.

******

I always enjoy how on a holiday meant to remember the dead, Americans of all shapes/sizes/ages will use it as an excuse to drink too much alcohol, scorch dead animals on grills, and ramble their rambles about those who have
served.

Don’t even get an old fuck like me started on the honor part.

******

My physical being is imposing even when I do not want it to be. I soften and soften my face and my eyes, yet I am still this thing, this big lunk of meat and skin and scar tissue and possible violence. Possible violence is a thing.

The violence I think about all of the time is the verbal and unintended type. The kind where people speak and speak and yammer and yammer all while never looking around themselves to see their surroundings or whom their yammering may bleed from. The kind of violence that is unintended but steals away any comfort at all, the kind of violence that should have been taught about when small and innocent. The kind of violence I am thinking about is friend on friend, lover on lover, brother on sister, neighbor on neighbor. Words and words and words and words.

******

The girl I was going to marry told me she had fallen in love with another. She told me this while I stood on a payphone in the rain thousands of miles to the northwest. She told me this only a few days before I was to board a plane and do the thing we were going to do. I kept asking her why it happened and what I could do to fix it and I kept asking her if she loved him and she said yes yes yes over and over again and then said the thing that clicked into place for me: “He’s here, Sean.”

******

People always say that dogs are loyal. I agree with that, but I’d also like to add that dogs are love. They want love and give love and live love.

Ask yourself what loyalty means to you. Go on.

******

Last night my neighborhood was a shitshow of fist fights, screaming drunks, people stumbling around and pissing on parked cars, vandalism, and plenty of other unseemly things. Memorial Day.

******

My physical being has survived plenty of violence. Self-inflicted, random, intentional, murderous—all of the types of violence one can think a physical body could be subjected to—and I am still here, in this body. My emotional self has suffered far more. The violence of witnessing ignorance and anger and hatred and disenfranchisement and cruelty. The violence of disinterest. The violence of righteousness. The violence of virtue. The violence of policing. I swallow this kind of violence into myself every day. We all do. We see it and hang our heads and we see it and slink away into ourselves and it stirs and stirs inside of us and it wrecks us from the inside out.

How hard is it to be kind?

******

I sat outside in the cold and listened for sounds. I sat on the bathroom floor and spoke in an angry hush. I stared holes into a sleeping man. I kept fingering the electrical outlet. I kept thinking about my hands and the power inside of them and the anger inside of the rest of me and kept looking into her eyes and listening to her, hearing her, seeing she was yes, in love. It took a long time, but I left and walked in the cold and stumbled my way back to a home that wasn’t mine and drank myself into sleep and woke the next day with a new feeling inside of my body.

Recently, she asked me how I was able to forgive her.

******

We’re all stars in a star-crossed universe.

******

I keep on wondering when my body will finally give in and raise the flag. When will the panic attacks leave. When will the need for nicotine move on. When will my hunger for meat cease. When will my desire to be desired slip away. I am so close to invisibility in so many ways, yet my physicality is so impossible to ignore. I want to be smaller. I want to be leaner. I want to see my shadow and think it belongs to another, younger version of me I am. I want to step out of the shower and not feel like I am heavy with death or heavy with panic or heavy with a sigh that is slumbering inside of me. I want to want. I want to want. I want to want.

******

Two days out of the calendar are set aside for Veterans and the fallen. Two. It sure seems like a lot more, but that is all there is, all that is official. Why people find the need to use those two days—those only two days—to flood the world with their disdain about all that has gone wrong is beyond my capacity of understanding. It can be done on any other day. Two days. Honor. Respect. Loyalty.

*******

I am not of the belief that people set out to betray one another. I might be touched in the head, who knows. I just know that there is no way the girl meant to betray me and I was never going to treat her as though she did. When she asked me how I was able to forgive her I told her that in order for me to live my life the way I choose to live my life, I have to be able to forgive others, otherwise I will never be able to forgive myself. Forgiving myself is hard and anyone who works that angle knows how hard it is. I am cruel to myself. I am constantly inflicting psychic and emotional violence upon myself. Sometimes I try to stick a mask on it and call it humility, but I know what it really is and that’s fine.

Let go.

Ride your fucking ride.

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It’s Not Like That Anymore

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I poured my father his last drink. Four fingers of scotch, ice, and a splash of water. I added three drops of liquid morphine. I made one for myself as well, same recipe. Richard Pryor had just passed away and it was late at night and my father was making me switch back and forth between CNN and The Weather Channel. I had tried to feed him some ice cream earlier and he spit it up and all over his beard and chest. As I was cleaning him off, he asked for the drink. Who am I to deny a dying man a drink? Who am I to tell my father no?

“Jesus fucking Christ, Sean. Are you trying to kill me?”

That’s what he said to me when I helped him take his first sip. Not thinking—just reacting and feeling terrible—I immediately apologized and took the drink from him but he hissed at me.

“I’m going to die anyway, idiot. Give me that drink back and sit with me.”

I saw the spark in his eye, a shot fired across my bow. So we sat in the dark. We sipped by the light of the television. He talked about how he wanted to have a drink with Richard Pryor, and about how that was going to happen pretty soon.

******

Every relationship is different. In groups of people who are all friends, everyone has a singular experience with everyone else. This is infallible. Nobody can have the same relationship with multiple people and nobody can claim to know someone the same way everyone else does. We all have different things inside of us that react to different things inside of others, and that goes around and around and makes being a human being having a human experience a weird as fuck thing.

You could say “everyone wears a different mask for everyone” and you wouldn’t be lying or wrong or even mean.

If you wanted to really fuck your own head up, you could try and maintain being one person at all times with every living thing. The same person with dogs as you are with the kid at the bodega you buy smokes from. The same person with the pharmacist as you are with the cable installation technician. The same person with your high school love as you are with your favorite Uncle. The same person with the detective interviewing you about a robbery as you are with someone you met at a job fair. This could go on and on, amen. Think.

******

When I was young I never listened. There were always folks around trying to kick small doses of rational thought and wisdom my way, but I was too insouciant and too full of myself to realize what was going on, how later on in my life I’d be begging and pleading for wisdom. Older punks would tell me to slow down, take my time, not to do this or that, but I’d barrel forward with every molecule of myself full of desire and anger and swagger. So much blood lost. I would have so much more of my blood if I had only learned to shut the fuck up and listen, to learn.

Now I know what both ways feel like. Now I know.

******

What we see as death, empty space, or nothingness is only the trough between the crests of this endlessly waving ocean. It is all part of the illusion that there should seem to be something to be gained in the future, and that there is an urgent necessity to go on and on until we get it. Yet just as there is no time but the present, and no one except the all-and-everything, there is never anything to be gained—though the zest of the game is to pretend that there is.

–from The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts

******

You cannot get time back once it is gone. As much as we give away, we give it away and that’s a wrap. Nothing comes back from the void. You can keep your ass in one spot long enough and sit in silence and then it starts to happen, you start to feel time slipping out from your fingerprints, from your eyelashes, from glances out a window or in puffs of smoke rising to the light. I’ve been sitting in silence more now than ever before. I sit in silence and I let my mind drift and sometimes it takes me places I never thought I would go, didn’t know mattered to me at all. Sometimes it drifts into my own home movies and that makes a ton of sense since I am working on a book about those home movies. But the home movies it selects for me to revisit are always so surprising. There are reveals in this book I never thought would carry weight for me, moments I thought were trivial or nonsensical, yet—they have immense weight and they hold keys to locks.

I don’t know if I want my time back or not.

I’ve been sitting in silence and thinking a lot about my heart and how it works and when it works well, when it doesn’t. I think about faces a lot. I think about the depths of hugs, the way a mouth feels on the cheek, the way a hand on an elbow or a shoulder can mean so many different things to so many different people, how many masks there are and who is/was wearing them and who will wear them. I think about nervous laughter. I think about eye movement and body language and unspoken things and things whispered. I think about actions and reactions and how each and every is different for each and every. I think about intent. I think about policing. I think about freedom. I think about medication and chemical reaction. I think about scent and tone. I think about failure and what a ridiculous concept it is to fail.

“You can only throw your own head.”

******

Saw Swans this past week with a friend I consider a brother. I took out my earplugs less than five minutes into the show because I needed to destroy everything inside of myself and needed to feel the pressure and the release the band intended for me, for all in the room. Wave after wave of punishment and bliss, wave after wave of sound and harmonic distortion and tones unknown rising and falling in the wash. Swans played six songs. They played for over two hours. My body was ecstatic. My heart was firing and peaceful. I could feel my feet, but I wasn’t there. I was leaving my body and returning to my body over and over again. I felt reborn with every crash and dead with every thud. It was everything I wanted and needed and more. I wish I could put your hand on my chest so that you could feel this.

******

A lifeless body is only lifeless because we know it has stopped working the way our bodies continue to work.

******

So very hard to justify personal battles when the world at large is burning and people are dying and everyone is starving and everyone is screaming. So very hard to express my politics without drowning out the voices that should be heard, so instead I choose silence and personal connection, personal conversation.

******

Words have been hard to come by so I have been using music to express myself. Sometimes I forget how much can be conveyed with three notes. Sometimes I forget music is my first language. Sometimes I forget to breathe. There are power dynamics in every relationship. My relationship with music is limitless, because I allow it to flow and I do not fight with it. My relationship with the written word—specifically the words I string together that will have my name attached—is more calculated, more affected. My relationship with the words that come out of my mouth is ever-evolving. I learn so much every day about how I speak and what I choose to say and how I choose to say it and to whom I am saying it and how those words will land. I am learning to shut up. I am learning to witness. I am learning to be still.

My relationship with myself is, and always will be, the hardest and most rewarding.

******

Ask the mirror.

******

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Welcome, Ghosts

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Eighteen years is a long fucking time. That’s what punched me in the chest the other morning while I sat in my kitchen window watching smoke drift from my hand and out into the fog—it has been eighteen years since my mother passed away—and now that realization is hovering around me, ghost-like, whispering. So much has happened in those eighteen years. Would she even know me? Would she want to? Would I want her to?

******

There will come a day when I stop writing about death.

******

This thing that keeps hovering around is not malevolent. It is something other, something needling but in a way that warms as much as it shakes. This thing is rattling memories loose and letting them push me around a little, which is kind of refreshing and kind of titillating because I need to be pushed around a little and ain’t much happening to do so regular-like. My clean blood is clean blood and will stay clean blood.

Yesterday I was standing on a pier in the middle of the East River and I was looking at the glorious fog hanging over the city and I kept on wanting to cry but the tears wouldn’t come. I closed my eyes and tried to let whatever needed to wash over me do what it would but all that kept happening was me seeing my dog—all wiggles and wags and snorts and grunts and happy sounds—sleeping at my feet in a way only dogs can do. I was trying to meditate, I guess. That is something I do every morning but I never do it out there in public even though it was early and the only other person I saw hanging around the park with the pier was an older bald man who kept looking at me warily and I could feel his sadness.

I can always feel sadness.

I had the new Swans album going pretty good in my headphones and the rhythm was perfect and repetitive and I felt myself leaving my body a little bit as I stood out there and could taste the moisture of the river and of the fog, but as soon as I would drift I’d see the dog again and come back to my flesh.

******

When all of your elders—the flesh and blood you came from—are gone, it’s unsettling. I’ve had time now to get used to it, but I don’t think I will ever fully get used to it. Mother, father, grandparents, aunts—all gone. Superstitiously, I mostly feel them around the anniversary of their death[s]. Emotionally, I mostly feel them when I feel unmoored and without a base. When I think about them when they were living, I don’t think they knew me at all, which wasn’t their fault as much as my own. I’ve always been secretive, dark, someone with a path hidden in the larger path everyone else sees. I have always been uncomfortable with lovers and friends who disclose their entire lives to their elders, people who share too much of their innermost and dangerous with people who are wired to worry, wired for concern and anguish. My elders didn’t need to know about my darkness. They felt it.

******

My neighbor has been riding a bike everywhere. He is a weed delivery guy, which is a very lucrative gig here in this city. Yesterday morning I was outside, smoking in front of the building, and he came down with his bike and we started rapping and joking. He’s from Oklahoma, loves metal, and—like me—is an orphan as an adult. His mother recently died and whenever I see him I just hug him and we don’t need to say anything because we know the secret handshake of orphaned adults. Back to the bike thing, though—I noticed he had no helmet and basically begged him to wear one. “Nope,” he said. I told him about my friend who was killed and how he wasn’t wearing a helmet and as the words were slipping out of my mouth an understanding coursed through my body, an electric current made of blood and knowing.

Orphaned adults don’t wear helmets because orphaned adults already know pain and give no fucks.

******

I would wear a helmet. I want everyone to know that. I would.

******

Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself about this shit, about the deaths and my hurt and my sad and my familial aloneness, I try to walk. I throw on headphones and get moving and get getting and get to watching other people on the street or in the park or in the stores or in the pews. Watching people be people is a cure-all. Watching people be people is an inspiration to be a person and not a mope and I’d be a monkeys uncle before I’d ever be a mope.

I think about my sister out in California and wonder how often she goes to see our mother, I wonder how her heart feels, I wonder if she feels the same aloneness, I wonder if she speaks secret words in the night to the ceiling like I do, I wonder if she sees our mother in the faces of cats and the tail wags of dogs, I wonder if she wonders—like I do—if our mother and our father have ever spoken in whatever world or place or chemical compound they are in after this life has ended for them.

******

Have you ever held a dead body? It’s an incredible thing. The physical is there but you can feel something has gone and something was there and electricity is still in there a little bit but it’s like holding a light bulb after taking it out of the socket and letting the glow dim. I held my mother’s dead body. I held my father’s dead body. I’ve held my own dead body. I’ve held your dead body.

Who will hold my dead body?

******

Trivial, but true—

My mother once found a series of letters I had written to Jimi Hendrix. I had been in a bad place, drugs were fucking with my head and my head was fucking with my heart and my heart was fucking with the world, and I had set up a typewriter in my room—I was around sixteen or so, I believe—and started clack-clacking away in the night. Stacks and stacks of letters, all of them free-form and flowing with my madness and my sadness and my desire to leave my body forever and leave the world forever and my blood feeling about my father and my mother and my friends and my sister and my classmates.

I really didn’t understand any of my classmates. I was an alien boy.

Any other mother who’d found those letters would have freaked. Any other mother would have sent that child away never to be seen again. Any other mother would have put a pillow over the monster’s face in its sleep and let it slip away.

Not my mother. No.

She told me she found the letters and encouraged me to keep writing.

******

My mother let my band “rehearse” in her house. My mother let me and all my dopey and beautiful punk rock friends smoke in her house. My mother would sit up late at night and drink coffee with my high school girlfriends and talk to them, soothe them, treat them like adults when nobody else would. My mother secretly made t-shirts for my band and gave all of them to us on the eve of our first show. My mother cried when I graduated high school because she never thought I would be able to follow through and do it because I’d dropped out twice and went back and still finished on time. My mother cried when I enlisted in the Navy because I did it on my own and didn’t tell her I was doing it and she was proud. My mother cried when my ship pulled in to San Diego and she couldn’t see me because I was locked up in the brig. My mother called me by my secret name—the name she gave me as a child—when she saw me after she came out of her coma. My mother danced with me at my bar mitzvah and I remember seeing her deep brown eyes and how proud she was and how glad she was and I remember right now—sitting here, right here—how much that meant to both of us.

******

I joke about death because death is a joke. The joke that never lands right. The joke that stings. The joke that twists.

My mother, born on Father’s Day, died on Mother’s Day, loved to laugh.

I need to laugh more.

******

I’m still writing, Mom.

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Put Your Halo On

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Woke up today to a second straight morning of head full of thump and clenched teeth. This time the thump is closer to the last time the thump completely waylaid me, which means the thump is getting too comfortable. This time the clenched jaw is a leftover from bad and restless sleep and a day of clench and a week of grit. Coffee helps a little but not enough and I don’t want to take a pill and waste an entire day.

Who am I kidding? I waste entire days every goddamn day.

Snowbound claustrophobia is a thing. Looking out the window to see the glare off roofs and the wind pushing free flakes into the air is suffocating. Taking the dog out to romp is great until she hits a patch of salt and then I have to get down on my knees in the ice and muck and free the lazy from between her pads. Salt is what it is—a quick fix for the lazy and the people among us who hate dogs having fun in the snow.

******

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Stop writing about your dog, you fucking amateur.]

******

I just looked at the tip of my finger that I lost when Freaky Frank slapped my ass as I was using a mandolin slicer to cut jicama. Slapped it right now on the edge of the desk and I still cannot feel that portion of my fingertip, all these years on. I wonder what ever became of Freaky Frank? I wonder if he still does drag shows and loves fat white boys? I wonder if his man-tits are still freakish-looking like cow teats with gigantic and brown silver dollar pancakes for nipples?

Freaky Frank worked with me at this Euro-style Deli. All of the sandwiches were made to order and went into brown paper bags marked NOONER on them. I got him high one night after work and he started hitting on me, telling me no woman would ever be able to suck me off the way he would be able to. I had stolen a bottle of red wine from the deli and we were sitting in a park and he was telling me all of this nonsense while I was trying to get a good and warm buzz going. I let him ramble and touch my leg as he flirted. Freaky Frank was fun and he made working there easier to take—I, along with Chongo, a weird alcoholic diesel mechanic named Dave, and another cat named Dale, were the only straight dudes working there—because he was always talking trash in a sneering and bratty way. When cute female customers would flirt with me he would walk behind me and mumble nasty things about them, and what he would pay me to let him watch us do.

I wasn’t even mad at Freaky Frank when I lost the tip of my finger. If anything, I thought it was hilarious that he walked behind me and slapped my ass that hard. Took balls. I was hurrying to make a big catering order and was slicing a bunch of jicama to put on these boring turkey sandwiches. Right before he slapped me I was singing a stupid song as I worked, making up lines like “Jicama can cure a hickey, ma” and “Jicama, jicama, suck up my motherfucking dick-a-ma.” Everyone was laughing and then Freaky Frank rolled right behind me and muttered “I’ll suck your fat white dick-a-ma, boy” and then slapped my ass with his giant paw and my hand jumped and I heard the strange sound my fingertip made as it dragged through the blade and I immediately yelled “FUCK” and clenched my fist and ran to the back prep room and started hopping up and down in place.

The family that owned the place all worked there. The dude who ran it for his parents, Randy, was a total burn-out hippie who wore Grateful Dead shirts and would hit me up for joints. He came back to where I was hopping up and down and pulled up a pickle bucket, sat down, and then asked me to unclench my fist to show him what had happened. I opened my fist and my blood sprayed Randy right in the face. He was totally calm about it and everyone else shrieked and he said “Looks like we need to get Dale to take you to the emergency room to get this fixed.” I clenched my fist again and apologized to Randy for spraying his face with blood.

Everyone had rushed to the back to see what was going on, but not Dale. Dale went over to my sandwich station to try and find my fingertip, but he said it wasn’t there. Dale and I shared a joint on the way to the emergency room and he kept on laughing about me spraying Randy with blood. I was laughing too, but was starting to get nervous about my finger and not being able to play guitar again. When we got there the doctor took a look at my finger after washing it all out, shot it up with lidocaine, and then stitched the tip closed under the nail bed. I asked him if I would be able to play guitar and he told me to stop “being a baby about a tiny little wound.” He immediately became my favorite doctor.

They gave me a script for painkillers and Dale and I went to fill it and then I sold all of them to him for $100. For some reason, Randy wanted Dale to bring me back to the deli instead of taking me home, so we went back. When we walked in Freaky Frank came over to me with sad eyes and tried to hug on me and say he was sorry. I let him, and then he put his hand in my back pocket, slipping me a bag of weed and an apology note that I found later on when I was at home.

They ended up finding the tip of my finger in one of the sandwiches.

******

Before I worked at that gig with Freaky Frank, I worked for another Frank, this one I called First Day Frank, at another deli. FDF owned this tiny little place next to a bookstore in a mall and he had no idea how to run a business. I cannot remember what he told me he did before he opened up the joint, but it sure wasn’t anything involving food or the service industry, because he was bad at it. That’s why he hired me, to run the place for him. He paid me shit money and was only around for two hours a day—the lunch rush—and he’d call me at night as we were closing to ask about the money.

Owners of small businesses love to call about the money.

First Day Frank had all these weird rules about things that made no sense to any of the three of us working for him—myself, this sweet kid from Nebraska named Brennen, and this crazy ex-biker named Terry Large who had a huge tattoo of a black widow on the inside of his forearm that Frist Day Frank would beg him to cover up—so, we basically ignored his rules and did whatever we wanted. We were only busy during lunch, feeding all the girls from the bookstore and random people strolling through the mall, so we spent the rest of our time drinking lime rickeys and bullshitting. Terry Large used to love to talk about women in awful and terrible ways and waggle his tongue out of his mouth while doing so. Terry Large also used to love sleeping at a table and calling out sick. Terry Large once asked me why I was always scribbling into spiral notebooks and I answered him with one word—“poetry”—and then he never asked me about it again.

Terry Large did not like poetry, obviously.

Brennen was sweet, like I said—he was really innocent and kind—and he was going to school to be a mechanic. One night after closing I was having sex with one of the women from the bookstore after locking up and poor Brennen had come in with his keys to make himself a sandwich because he was broke and walked right in on us in the tiny back room. I remember looking over her shoulder as she was straddling me and seeing his face and I felt terrible for him. I stopped feeling terrible for him when he went on ahead and made himself a sandwich anyway. He never brought it up, so we never talked about it.

Some of our customers were guys working at the used car lot across the street. One of them, this weird dude named Mark, decided he wanted to be my pal. He asked me if I wanted to go to a basketball game with him, because he had an extra ticket. I went, which was stupid of me. Mark was in the middle of a divorce and he was a cocaine addict and he never shut the fuck up the entire time and kept on telling me about ADD and how cocaine was good for people with ADD and how he was sure I also had ADD and I ended up doing most of his cocaine that night. I don’t know if First Day Frank, Brennen, or Terry Large gave him my phone number, but Mark started calling me all the time, telling me I should sell used cars with him and telling me he knew a stripper that would love me and asking me if I could get him more cocaine. It was a nightmare. Mark ended up getting arrested for stalking his wife and I never heard from him again.

I used to steal cash money from First Day Frank.

I never stole a lot, but he was asking me to run his place for him and he was barely paying me, so I would steal $40-$60 here and there. I would purposely not ring people up and slip their money underneath the cash drawer and make them change from the drawer anyway. Then, when I would be closing out for the night I would do the math necessary to make sure I wouldn’t get caught. That money kept my lights on. That money kept my cat fed.

Terry Large got caught, though.

He got caught stealing fucking food, of all things. Why would you steal food from a place you could eat at all goddamn day and never get in trouble for it because the owner was never around? Terry Large tried to steal a giant hunk of roast beef and a loaf of bread and First Day Frank fired him, which meant Brennen and I would have to work alongside First Day Frank for a while until he decided to hire someone new. After two weeks, First Day Frank decided he had had more than enough and sold the place to some sandwich chain and me and Brennen lost our jobs.

First Day Frank was a Cubs fan.

******

I once put Iggy Pop’s “Fall in Love with Me” on a mixtape for a waitress and left it taped to the door of her car.

It was the only song on the tape, both sides full-up.

******

What I said about Freaky Frank’s man-tits was mean and totally uncalled for.

I’m real sorry, Freaky Frank. I hope your man-tits are magnificent.

******

Dave the diesel mechanic freaked me out so bad one night when we got high together that I ran all the way home and hid inside of my apartment. He had been drinking heavily and a bunch of us were at this girl’s apartment and I smoked him out and then he started going into great detail about how a diesel engine worked, talking with his hands and ignoring everyone around us, his eyes full of black fuel and orange smoke. I’m not sure if it caused me to have a psychotic break or if I was already going to have one, but it sure did make me run as fast as I could away from him and the party where I was hoping to ball the girl who lived there. She ended up coming over to my place around three in the morning and I let her in and made us eggs and toast and we made out and then I fell asleep with my dick in her hand.

I was good at shit like that.

******

I never answer my phone.

******

Everyone is crazy to someone else. Whenever I allow myself to meditate on my first thoughts after meeting someone new, I try to remind myself that no matter how weird that person may or may not appear to me, I am just as weird in their eyes. I mean—let’s get real here—being alive in this world in this period of time with all this technology at our fingertips and all this knowledge available to almost every sentient being, we’re all still weirded out by being here and we’re all still weirded out about interacting with other weirdoes. Instead of worrying about it, we should all just go on ahead and get weird together.

******

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A Piece of the Sky

perp

For almost a year after the death I wore Canoe. Combined with the scents of cigarettes and whiskey and his leather jacket, he stayed fresh in the first sense. Not that I could ever forget—the man died in my fucking arms—but I wanted to be sure, wanted to keep him around as long as I could. Some of his mannerisms held fast. The way he’d grump up his face when he didn’t want to be spoken to, the way he’d wave someone off with his hand as they approached him, the way he’d suck his scotch through his teeth and loose a little sigh. I still obsessively watch The Weather Channel when my body doesn’t feel right, much like he did in his last days, as if he was looking for a hole in the sky to rise through, a break in the pattern to exploit.

That first year—somehow I still to this day have no idea how I survived myself—was full of so many terrible hiccups and so much phantom pain. I drank. I drank a lot. I drank a lot and filled my belly with pills. I filled my belly with pills and filled women with my sad. I stumbled through this city without care or awareness, hoping it would swallow me, disappear me, destroy me. I woke up in poorly-lit apartments in every borough, in every neighborhood, in every possible combination of unraveling. I’d try to sneak out silently, working my way out into streets unfamiliar and trying to navigate my way back to where I was supposed to be, with some family. As much as I did my best to dull, I raged like an exposed nerve.

This is not how you’re supposed to get free.

******

“Seventeen more blocks.”

******

I keep on going back on the inside of the walls of my head to things that made sense at the time, but seem to be garbled a little now. I know that while I was in Santa Fe I did everything I could to hold fast to the idea that I was there to help him, to guide him through the fire, to ensure that his wishes were respected and that he was allowed to die with dignity. I know this. I know that I said and did some things that were out of character for me—the way I dealt with others and their emotions was not necessarily tactful, but it also wasn’t meant to be cruel—and those things are scrambled images now, misidentified markers of time and space. I know that I spent a lot of time in silence, watching and listening, watching and listening, watching and listening and breathing slowly. I know that things were said to me—to my face—that to this day echo and clang around in here like bullets in a barrel. I know that things were said about me, behind my back and behind closed doors, things that I clearly felt and heard even though there was no possible way I could have.

An addict can always smell the conspiracy before the rot sets in.

******

We used to go on camping trips. My psychologist—the one the school suggested because my acting-out had reached a level where the teachers were genuinely afraid the next step might be violence—used to take a bunch of us at-risk students up along the Mogollon Rim, where the desert outside of Phoenix climbs into mesas and everything changes. We’d all meet at his house and he would immediately put every last one of us to work—loading provisions or helping him change the shocks on his jeep or opening up all the sleeping bags to check them for rot or spiders—none of us complaining, each of us sizing one another up, silently, wondering who on the trip would be the bully, who would be the baby, who would be the kiss-ass. My own old man had never taken me camping. All of this stuff was new to me, the gear, the knots, the hiking, all of it.

Up on the rim we’d camp out under the stars after hiking in for miles and miles, finding spots near creeks and rivers, building huge fires and sitting around them as a crew of orange and red and yellow freaks as our psychologist would show genuine care and concern for our lives, in turn getting us to care about one another. We’d all take turns talking about our shitty lives, about how none of our friends understood us, how none of our teachers liked us, how none of the girls would even look at us. It was a kindness and a brotherhood none of us knew how to accept or understand. Jokes about masturbation habits would lead to physical confrontations. Ribbing about someone’s physical shape would turn into rolling around on the forest floor with bloodied noses and tears. One kid freaked so bad one time he tried to light another kid’s tent on fire, all because he found out the other kid had made out with his cousin.

Then there was the time I shit myself after jumping off of a dam into a reservoir.

******

I do not, nor do I plan to, have children. I have no idea who will take care of me as I am dying. I am not close with my family. I do not speak to my younger cousins. My sister has no children, either. I often wonder who will carry out my wishes, who will sit by my side, doling out the drops of morphine and holding the plastic bag under me as I struggle to expel waste from my body as it shuts down. Who will carry my ashes?

******

I was afraid to jump but I had seen every other boy do it. I still remember how incredible it felt to be falling toward the water, how I could see it reaching up for me, how the air around me wanted so badly to hold me up but momentum and gravity and science wouldn’t allow such a thing. I remember trying to cross my feet at the ankle as I had been told, to make sure I didn’t rupture my balls. I kept my arms crossed around my chest, holding myself tight, like a knife in flight.

It happened as soon as I hit the water.

I felt my bowels release when I went under. The water was so clear and I remember opening my eyes as I cut to the bottom—I could see so much wreckage down there, parts of machinery from the mining plumes that had been there before, tires, barbed-wire fencing—but I also felt what had happened to my body, what I had done. When my momentum stopped and I was supposed to ascend to the top, I reached into my shorts with my hand and felt it all—a mess coming out of me—and tried not to panic. Surfacing, I made the decision to stay in the water for a while, to act as if nothing had happened, to save myself from ridicule and laughter. I figured that as everyone else was climbing in and out to jump, I could make my way into the woods and clean myself up.

As I slowly made my way up the face of the reservoir wall, one of the kids shouted—“Sean! You got something running down your legs!”—and I knew right then I couldn’t hide what had happened. They were like a gang of howler monkeys, yelling and screaming and laughing and jumping up and down at my misfortune. I tried my best to play it off, tried to act like I didn’t care, and made my way up the wall and into the forest to take care of myself. I could still hear them.

I can still hear them.

******

For a while I was working on a book about my father, about what we went through, how the days taking care of him helped change me/us, how it shaped who I am right now. I do not think I will ever be done writing about his death, our death, what took place. I was in a writing workshop and had to read a passage I wrote about the day we—his oncologist, myself, and his wife—had to tell him that the chemo and radiation weren’t working anymore, and that it was time to go home. When I was reading I could not look at anyone. As I was reading I could not believe what I had written—how terrifying the words felt coming out of my mouth, words I had never dared to speak out loud to anyone since it had happened—and that I had been carrying it inside of me, rubbing it smooth like a worry stone. I can still feel my voice wavering, can still feel how silent the room became—my classmates rubbing their feet together under themselves and my instructor, a friend, breathing deeply as the words took form in the air around us—and how much I knew in that very moment that I was not ready to write such a book, because such a book would be the end of it all, the end of the memories and the end of my private feelings, the end of kindness in a lot of ways. But I was wrong. I was so very wrong.

I will forever be writing such a book, in my heart, on the walls, inside of myself, inside of the world. I will forever relive those moments, see his eyes break into tiny shards of stars in a black hole, hear his voice cave in on itself and ask me if there were any alternative medicines we could try, watch his chin fall to his chest, feel his hand in mine going softer, child-like, not ready to go but no choice but to go.

And here we are in this world.

******

I ran through the trees until I couldn’t hear them anymore. I ran until I was up on high, a ridge far from the reservoir, shit running down my legs and into my sneakers which were still wet from the water. I found a downed tree and pulled my shorts to my ankles to assess whatever damage I had done to myself. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought, but it was bad enough. Everyone knew what I had done. I did what I could to clean myself up—grabbing up handfuls of dead leaves and trying to wipe myself clean, rubbing leaves and grass into my shorts to clean them out as well—but I was just making things worse. Shit was getting on every part of my body. I was a teenaged boy in the woods with his shit-filled shorts on the ground, naked to the skies and the trees and the tears coming out of my face were hot and never-ending.

I wanted to die.

I decided I was going to survive in the woods. I was never going back to the reservoir and never going back to the campsite. I was going to stay out there in the wilderness and find a way to survive. I thought I could catch fish in the creek with my hands. I thought I knew how to make a fire with sticks. I thought that if I stuck it out, I would be able to outlast people and sneak back into the camp and grab a sleeping bag, maybe even a tent, and disappear. I sat on a downed tree and envisioned the whole thing—my parents would miss me for a little while, but they’d realize the house was quieter and totally forget about me, my friends wouldn’t care because they didn’t care to begin with, my sister would knock down the wall between out bedrooms and live like a princess—all while doing the best I could to not allow myself to hear what was happening, what was coming.

I could hear my psychologist calling out my name. I could hear him getting closer to where I was and all I wanted to do was hide myself from him. I didn’t want to be found, I wanted to live out my little delusion in the woods, I wanted to be Mowgli. I tried to drop down on the other side of the tree I was sitting on, but he clocked me from a few yards away.

“I can see you over there, you know?”

“How did you find me?”

“Well, you did leave behind a little trail. Sorry.”

“I can’t go back. Those fuckers are laughing at me.”

“I’m laughing at you, too. Want me to leave you out here, or do you want me to help clean you up so you can come back and eat with us?”

Instead of answering I started crying harder. He came over to me and pulled out a roll of toilet paper from his pack. He helped me clean myself up, laughing at me the entire time. Not because of what had happened, but because of the sheer ridiculousness of me shitting myself just from hitting the water the way I had, and how ridiculous it was of me to run off the way I had, like some scared child, which, really, I was. I was a scared child, on a camping trip with a bunch of other scared children.

******

Whenever I catch myself getting frustrated on a Brooklyn sidewalk—and believe me, even Gandhi would get frustrated trying to navigate the broken and aloof here in this city—I remind myself that I will one day be one of those old folks trying to move with a walker or a cane, with nobody to lean on. I remind myself that my parents are long gone, and unlike so many others, I will not have to deal with their aging, their slow decline. I do what I can for my elderly neighbors in my building. Whenever there is a storm or it snows heavily, I go knock on their doors and ask them if there is anything I can do for them, anything I can run to the store and get, prescriptions to pick up.

I fought, very loudly, with a pharmacist about filling a prescription for my father. Controlled substance laws are what they are, and I understand why they are needed, but when the script is from hospice care people, it’s probably best to fill it and let those trying to fill it get back to their dying. I remember pacing back and forth while on hold with my cell planted in my ear and dropping nuclear curses upon everyone’s homes. I remember seeing a little boy in a shopping cart looking my way, terrified, and me yelling “Don’t worry, kid! You’ll have to do this for your mother some fucking day! Take fucking notes!” while his mother tried to cover his ears. I remember the woman at the pharmacy mentioning the police. I remember spitting on something and kicking something. All I could think about in those angry moments was how he was dead already, but time was slow and painful and I just wanted to give him some relief. I never thought I’d be using his drugs as well. I never thought I’d be sneaking drops of his morphine into everything I was consuming. I never thought beyond the face I saw, the broken face, the dying face, of a man I never really knew but knew better than anyone I will ever know.

I remember him not having enough strength to use a goddamn walker to get to the bathroom in his own fucking home, and I remember having to hold his cock for him as he pissed into a plastic container, and I remember how he looked up at me as it was happening and how defeated he looked and how I must have looked the same fucking way as a child or as that kid trying to hide from everyone after I had shit on myself in the woods.

I remember it all.

******

I don’t have his leather jacket anymore. I don’t have the golf clubs he left to me, and I surely don’t have the set of tools he said were for me but I never saw them. I no longer wear Canoe. I haven’t shit myself—other than some severe food poisoning/sun poisoning in Hawaii earlier this year, but even then I was on the shower floor and close-to-death—since that camping trip. None of the other kids ever made fun of me for what happened. They all acted like it never occurred, and my psychologist only brought it up once, years later, when we met for sushi after my mother died. I have written sentence after sentence after sentence about my father and how his ghost lives in me, around me. I have written about how his eyes are my eyes, only a different color, and how his hands are my hands, and his mistakes are also my mistakes, and his death is ultimately a death of my own. I will probably never stop writing about him or what we went through or what happened or how it happened or what I do not remember or what I remember only in fragments. I will never stop missing him, nor will I ever be able to shake him.

I am him.

******

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Is It My Body?

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When you move you have the luxury of being able to reinvent yourself. Because I had a terrible speech impediment, I was not afforded this gift. You cannot get away with wearing a new identity if you sound like a tea kettle. You cannot get away with pretending to be tough and fearless when you get beat up for your lisp and your whistle.

You can, however, take some speech therapy and then try your best to learn how to fight, which is much better than a mask.

******

When I was a teen and girls became the only thing I wanted to touch or think about or know or explore or even be the fuck around, I was terrified. I was the dipshit kid who would end up on the phone with some other dude’s girlfriend when she was mad at him for something stupid and they would talk and talk and talk and I would smoke and smoke and listen and pine and pine and pine. The girls would always tell me how sweet I was. The girls would always ask me why I didn’t have a girlfriend. I would sit there with the receiver to my ear and my heart in my throat and I wouldn’t say anything at all, but I would secretly in my blood wish they would ask me to come over to their house, to sneak in through their window, to sneak into them.

I once tried to kiss a friend’s girl at a party when she was crying because he had said something mean to her. She was furious at me—both of her balled-up fists hit me right in the sternum as she yelled at me—and threatened to tell my friend what I had done. Instead of facing up to it, I just stopped hanging around them, making myself a ghost.

I was always a ghost.

I was always good at living in secret.

******

Sometimes when I look at my hands—and this is something I do often, this looking at the hands thing—I can see where they have been.  Faces they have touched. Work they have done, on cars, printing presses, grills, drywall, roofs, pulling weeds, choking assailants.

Are they my hands, or are they my teeth?

Are they my hands, or are they my father’s hands?

******

I was seventeen when I lost my virginity. I was seventeen and terrified and had no idea what I was doing and left everything up to my more experienced partner. She was a classmate. We had flirted for two years prior—science class and the backseats of Novas, coupled with marijuana and Alice Cooper led to lots of making out and frustrated grabbing and pawing through clothing—but I got kicked out of school and she called me and said she wanted to come over on an early Summer day. A friend rode his scooter over to her house and picked her up, bringing her back to my house. He shook my hand and palmed three condoms into my grip, then left.

I remember everything that happened that afternoon like it just happened ten minutes ago. The way the pot we smoked just hung in the air in my room, the way my waterbed sloshed back and forth, the way it felt the very moment she put me into herself, the dumb shit I mumbled out of my terrified mouth, the way she asked me, mid-stroke, if I was a virgin.

She smiled when I told her that I was.

After we had sex, we spent the rest of the afternoon in my room with her splayed across my bed, naked, while I read her Allen Ginsberg poems and we smoked more and more pot. She’d laugh at lines that she could tell I was uncomfortable reading aloud. She’d reach out with her hand and pull me back down to her to kiss me, to touch me, to slip me back inside. She’d smile at me as we romped and smile at me as I shuddered and smile at me as I crushed up stolen amphetamines for us to snort.

She had to leave around dusk because her folks were coming home and she wasn’t supposed to be out anywhere after getting busted with some hash on her. I called my friend and he came back and picked her up on his scooter to take her home. He winked at me as they rode off.

******

When I was in my early twenties I worked at a record store. My coworkers and I used to chomp at the bit for shoplifters—store policy was such that we could apprehend them, chase them down if they ran from the store. More often than not, because I was ex-military, as soon as another employee suspected someone of trying to jack a used cassette tape they would alert me. I would station myself in the area of the store closest to the doors, acting like a customer or acting as though I was doing some mundane task, just waiting for that moment when the ‘lifter would attempt to flee.

Once, a gang member tried to push his way through me and a wall of other employees. His neck a series of stringy veins trying to pop and guttural sounds meant to intimidate. I was the closest to him, and with every push he made forward, I pushed back into him. He was so strong, so focused. He tried to rake my eyes with a free hand and then that is when I snapped—I reached out with my right hand, closing it across his throat and leaving my feet. We lurched toward the floor and by the time we had hit it, he had pulled a small knife free from his waist and was digging it into my thigh. My hand closed tighter and tighter. His face crimson and tears.

When the rest of my coworkers pried us apart, he had carved a decent chunk of meat free from my leg. They searched his pockets. All that violence over a used Jodeci cassette going for a paltry $2.99.

I felt nothing as it was happening. They were not my hands.

******

She and I never had sex again—that one afternoon was basically it other than phone calls and plans that would never come together—and I thought I would never see her again, but one early morning I was standing in a grocery store with a girl I was dating and there she was, working in the bakery. When she saw me she tried to hide. When I saw her I tried to die. The girl I was dating dropped my hand and started asking me a storm of questions about who she was and what happened between us and raising her voice and all I could do was stand there like a dumb oaf and try to look around the bakery equipment to see her eyes, to see her face, to see if she would smile.

The girl I was dating dragged me out of the store. I never saw her—S, my first–again.

The ghost got ghosted.

******

POSTCARD FROM THE DESERT, 1988: Thrown from the back of a moving pick-up in the middle of the desert only to come around near a huge fire surrounded by a bunch of teens dancing and drinking and a bottle of cheap tequila in my lap and on my lips.

******

I tried to burn Black Flag bars into my upper arm when I was sixteen, using a piece of a coat hanger, a lighter, and some wire cutters. They were not my favorite band but I wanted all the kids at my school to see how punk rock I was—it was a really important thing at that part of my life—because I was getting tired of being lumped in with the heshers and the rockers. I did the first strike-brand and then chickened out on the rest. I never even showed the one burn to anyone. I told my mother I burned my arm getting something out of the oven. She told me to keep rubbing vinegar into it and that the scar would fade away.

******

After I lost my virginity and a little time had passed, I had a girlfriend who was very sexual and demanding. She was older than me—I was still seventeen but she was twenty, from Minnesota, and way more punk rock than I could ever have been—and liked to boss me around all the time. I didn’t care because I was a seventeen year old kid having sex with a twenty year old that everyone was afraid of and that made me feel kind of different. She was mean and funny and mean and mean. She liked to belittle me in front of her friends and make fun of me for not knowing how to drive. She taught me a lot, though.

At the end of our short relationship I got very sick. She came over to my house one day when nobody was around and pretended like she cared about my well-being—she made me some soup and sat with me in my room while I coughed and hacked, going through my records and telling me which ones weren’t punk enough—until she decided she needed to have sex with me, even in my sickly state.

She put me in her mouth but I didn’t stir. She got angry and bit down hard. Then she slipped a condom on me and tried to put me inside of her but that wasn’t working. She started to yell at me and punch me in the head and face.

“You’re gonna have to learn some day that you have a lot to learn, you sad piece of shit.”

She pulled on her pants and stomped on a few of my records before storming out. I never saw her again but I hear her all the time.

******

The first band I was ever in did a terrible cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” We tried so very hard to punk it up, but that is not the worst part. The worst part is that when we were in a recording studio recording a bunch of our songs we did that song but instead of singing the original lyrics, we turned it into some kind of homophobic sing-along. I remember going home early that day—we recorded overnight because it was way cheaper and we were punks and didn’t have any fucking money, man—and popping the cassette master into my headphones, listening to our original songs and feeling great and thinking the future was a big river and then that song came on and I heard all of the terrible things the four of us were yelling into microphones and I felt so very sick inside. I kept on thinking about what idiots we were, and about how even if anyone liked our other songs, that one dumb thing we did would follow us forever. I never said anything to the rest of the band about how I felt because I felt so gross and stupid.

I am pretty sure those recordings are nowhere to be found in the world.

******

Wearing a uniform is something everyone does, especially those who claim they will never do such a thing.

******

One of the last nights I was a drinker I wandered up and down Ave A begging people to punch me in the face. At one point I was wagging around one hundred dollars and screaming that I would give it to anyone that would knock me out. Maybe it was because of how insane I looked and sounded, but nobody would do it. I ended up somehow finding my way into Koreatown and a massage parlor and that money was gone as quick as I was because the woman who massaged me was beautiful and kind and she worked it all out—the anger and the shame and the Sean that needed to die, the Sean that no longer needed to be a ghost.

******

Sometimes I find it kind of funny that I have seen so much blood in my life and here I am, a man with something wrong in his blood.

The body betrays.

******

“All souls must undergo transmigration and the souls of men revolve like a stone which is thrown from a sling, so many turns before the final release…Only those who have not completed their perfection must suffer the wheel of rebirth by being reborn into another human body.” — Zohar

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