Red Wagon

She pulled her little red wagon in the overcast afternoon chill, her thin coat pulled closely against her slender little bones.  The back wheel of her wagon was slightly bent, causing the tire to squeak and twist on its axis ever so slightly with each rotation.  *squeak* *squeak* *squeak* She trudged up the pavement, until at last she arrived at her destination.  Her tiny brow furrowed as she struggled with the sheet of paper against the pillar.  Worn sneakers on tippy-toes stretching tiny fingers as high as they could reach, fumbling with slick – sticking tape, fighting the corners for control until at last her poster was plastered to the pillar for all to see:

“Lost Dog”  

Curious onlookers inside the coffee shop peered over their steamy mugs through the frosty window frames, content to have a reprieve from an otherwise uneventful Tuesday afternoon.  

“Aww… isn’t that the saddest thing?” the patrons cooed.  The coffee shop was abuzz with tepid conversation, of collective pity of the little girl beyond the glass.  Outside, the forlorn little figure stepped back to admire her handiwork for a moment rubbing the heat back into her fingers, and then disappeared up the street– red wagon in tow.  *squeak* *squeak *squeak*

 

Weeks past and the poster tore.  Rained-soaked and wind swept until all that remained were tiny taped corner nubs.  The little girl returned, with her little red wagon with the slightly bent back wheel in tow.  *squeak* *squeak* *squeak* She stood on the tops of tippy-toes on the slick road with arms outstretched way beyond the enormous weight of her lost pet, plastering the pillar with her heart’s honest and earnest plea:


“Lost Dog”

“Aww… that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.”  An outspoken barista declared as she wiped her hands down her apron; murmurs of agreement echoed in ripples across the coffee shop.  They all sat watching through paned glass as the little girl collected herself and disappeared down the street.  Forgotten, the barista poured another cup of coffee.  

Weeks passed and the elements ran their slender icy slicing fingers through her poster, reducing it to ribbons to be rolled down the street in limp tumbling tubes.  The little red wagon with the slightly bent back wheel came rattling up the pavement.  *squeak* *squeak* *squeak* A tall figure stood in front of the coffee shop and with a drooping head and slumped shoulders.  Slender arms with skinnier fingers pressed the poster to the pillar.  Patrons inside craned their necks to get a glimpse:

“Missing Girl.”  

Sentimental Plates

Moving in together is weird.  Relationship semantics aside, just the physical act of combining two people’s things is a feat in and of itself.  I feel like George Carlin put it best:

Now the missus and I have been living together for almost five months now.  Her stuff and my stuff have happily melded together to become our stuff.  But because we took over her grandparents’ house, there’s also a lot of residual stuff left over from them too.   Some of it was useful: her grandfather had a massive collection of tools, most of them in great working condition.  Some of it was clearly old and meant to be disposed of: Like that 1970’s vacuum cleaner with the millions of broken attachments, or the lamp that was more rust than lamp.

But there was one thing that simply could not be touched– The plates.

Her grandmother had amassed quite the collection of plates of the years.  Serving platters from the nearby Chinese restaurant the family loved to frequent.  Dishes brought home all the way from Japan.  The little cat bowl grandma used to serve my girlfriend as a kid.  Each dish has its own unique history and story.

But I don’t know any of these stories.  All I know is I have a cabinet full of plates.  Some of them will blow up the microwave because they have gold flecks inlayed in the edges.  Some of them may contain lead.  None of them stack, because this mismatched menagerie of dishware is amassed from so many different sources.  So our cabinets are full of a Dr. Seuss-ian dystopian toppling towers of dishware.

Now I can’t get rid of any of the dishes.  But I can… disappear some of them.  I am taller than my girlfriend by about three inches and we have one particular shelf that is waaaay up there where where only cobwebs and a rogue cat hangs out.   And ever so slowly, week by week I hide a dish up there.

In a way, I’m preserving them.  Like the Monument’s Men saving priceless artwork from the clutches of evil Nazis, I am saving her grandparent’s dishes from the inevitability of gravity, chipped corners, and explosions… all of which I am prone.

So I’m a hero.  A hero of plates.  Until that day she cleans up there and finds them all again.  And I’m back to square one.  But boy can I dream.

The Asshole Cat

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This cat and I, we have a weird relationship.  I’m not sure who he belongs to, or where he lives.  He just appeared one night in the middle of my parking stall with these golden glinting eyes that caught the glow from my headlights.  He shuffled off into the darkness as if to say, “sure I guess you can park here tonight.”

Some nights he rolls around on the ground until I pet him.  Some nights hes an asshole and tries to bite me, and I swat at him and I go home.  Other nights he mews and cries indignantly, like I did him some great insult by coming home late.  Some nights I bring him bits of food and we sit on the concrete in silence, eating together and looking up at the stars.

But every night is a new night, regardless of how the last night went.  Whether he sunk his sharp little teeth into my hand, or I threw my slipper at him’ it all seems to slide off the cosmic score-card and every night we encounter each other anew.  Sometimes he’s an asshole.  Sometimes we are friends.

And usually, we are asshole friends.

I Wrote a Chair

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence is not an act, but a habit”
~Aristotle

It’s difficult to call myself a writer, when I write so infrequently these days.   Sometimes I feel like the last kid on the empty playground shouting “I‘m gonna be an astronaut some day, just you watch!”  to the dusty nothingness of cracked asphalt and faded lines as the afternoon sun of my youth slinks quickly behind the ever growing shadows and inevitability of adulthood.  Everyone else has gone inside and traded in their dreams for something more practical.  And I’m a waiter, who writes.  But not even the latter all that much.

It’s an empty word.  Writer.  A thin blanket so many others have veiled themselves to excuse their aspirations of greatness never blossoming into fruition.  Writer.  It’s a vague and incomplete title.  Tell someone you’re a carpenter and they’ll ask to see your wood-shop, or sit upon a sturdy chair you’ve built.  I’m a writer.  But I’m still working working on my novel.  Any day now… 

A chair either is– or it isn’t.  It exists in either of those two states.  Useless wood, or functional-something-finished.

And I think I’ve gotten it tangled up in my head.  This idea of the chair I want to make.  With the perfect spine and easy arm rests, and perfect legs, so much so that the very thought of constructing it, has me hiding from the shop.  But in truth.  I just need to touch wood.   To touch wood as often as I can, for as long as I can.  And eventually… something will come to fruition.

Childrens Books

I grew up in a very literate household, with teachers on both sides of my extended family.  My grandmother was a teacher, my aunties were all teachers, and my mother was a teacher. The vast majority of my adult cousins grew up to become teachers or school administrators.  So for Christmas and birthdays we didn’t get toys– we got books.  And all that literature made us speak good.  And read good.  And right good.

I didn’t realize it then, but as an adult looking back at some of the things I read as a kid… some stories are fucked up.

The Rainbow Fish
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What it’s about:
Here’s a story about a fish that is born inherently shiny and beautiful.  All the other fish don’t like him because his beauty makes them feel uncomfortable and self-conscious of their own inherent value.   So the shiny fish has no friends.  But he figures out by giving away one of his scales to every other fish, eventually they all become his friends.  By the end of the story everyone is the same because they all have one shiny scale, taken from the Rainbow Fish.

Why it’s wrong:
This is a book that is supposed to be about friendship and sharing.  And from a cursory six-year-old read through– sure it is.  But when you think about it, those other fish with whom he’s sharing his scales– they’re assholes.  They don’t like the shiny fish until he gives them something.   And it’s not like he’s not giving them a snack, or a soda, or one of his Pokemon or some monetary appeasement to make them happy; he is giving them an essential part of himself.  He IS the Rainbow Fish, and they resent him for it and take it away from him piece by piece.  But it’s just as much the Rainbow Fish’s fault; rather than face and overcome adversity, he lowers himself to their level of mediocrity.  The message is, “Don’t shine to bright, or others will resent you”  or conversely “If you are dull and ordinary, you can gang up on unique and brilliant individuals with superior numbers to pull them down to your level

I want my kids growing up embracing their awesomeness.  Childhood is rough, and nobody escapes unscathed but I want my kids to be able to handle criticism without buckling and conforming to the status quo like the Rainbow Fish.

Five Chinese Brothers
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What it’s about:
As the title would suggest, it’s a book about five Chinese brothers.  They all have seemingly random super powers, like a dialed down Mr. Fantastic if he was only able to stretch his legs, or one brother is fireproof Khalisi-style, and one brother can’t be decapitated (which raises the question, how did he figure out he had this power?)  Anyhow, one of the brothers inadvertently murders a kid and is sentenced to death.  The rest of his brothers take turns standing in for him during his execution using their unique powers to avoid death.

Why it is awesome:
Okay first off, you might be going “wait wait, one of the brothers murders a kid?  Explain yourself.  Well one of the brothers can hold the ocean in his mouth, and he does so with his kid-friend so the kid-friend can pick up seashells and treasure off the ocean floor.  The kid is given specific instructions to come back to shore when the brother he waves his arms or else he might spit out the whole ocean and drown the kid.   So of course the kid is a little shit and doesn’t listen to the brother, and ends up getting stuck at the bottom of the sea and killed.

swallowthesea

That’s the first great lesson in this children’s book: “Follow directions or you – might – die!”

Okay the second great lesson: Family.  The family of brothers band together, each one offering up their own lives as forfeit to the executioner in order to save the one brother.  Granted each one has a special ability that helps them avoid death, but they’re still all at risk.  The executioner could easily say “Y’know what, instead of trying to burn you, because I’ve heard rumors one of your identical brothers is immune to fire… I’m just gonna shoot you in the face”  But the family works together to help the brother get away with the murder of a small child.

Yay…  I think.

Butter Battle Book
Butterbattlebook

What it’s about:
Two feuding nations feud over whether it’s better to butter toast on the top on the bottom.  A small act of aggression by one side results is an arms race leading to near nuclear annihilation.

Why it is awesome:
Oh let me count the ways.  One. they’re feuding over toast.   It’s a super laughable premise but it’s extremely applicable to real life.  Swap toast for religion, politics, nationalism… and you pretty much have most of the world’s problems explained.  Two. the illustrations are awesome.  One guy starts off with a stick with some pokey things at the end of it.  In the ensuing arms race they get bigger and bigger weapons.  I’m talking one guy with eight cannons sitting on two elephants:

butterbattle
(pew pew pew pew!)

Finally, the ending is great.  The two characters are standing on the border of their countries with little red bombs that will ensure their mutual annihilation.  Each one is poised to destroy the other, waiting for the slightest provocation to use their weapon of mass destruction.  And then the book ends!  Just like that.  No happy warm and fuzzy ending.  No peaceful resolve with everybody coming together singing Christmas carols even though the fuzzy green guy jacked all their stuff.  Just anxious anticipation of the inevitable.  “Who’s going to drop it?  We’ll see

And that’s a great message for kids.  Nuclear destruction is just a button push away.  Sleep tight!

Rainy Day Car Ride

I have a playlist called the “Rainy Day Car Ride”.  It’s a compilation of all the emo music and dramatic stuff I listened to in high school, plus a whole myriad of other songs and artists I’ve picked up along the way.  It encapsulates that theme: what to listen to on a rainy day car ride… when the world is pouring misery and gray, and yet life continues in a constant forward trajectory through it all.   Basically everything downbeat, muted and depressing.  I used to listen to it a lot last year.  Practically every day on my drive everywhere…  But bit by bit, it stopped being so important.  It stopped being the soundtrack to my life.

Tonight is my birthday.  Every day is the oldest I’ve ever been, but birthdays in particular give me a day of reflection.  I haven’t played my “Rainy Day Car Ride” playlist for so long, it seemed appropriate that I listen to it on my drive home.  To remind  me what it’s like to feel sad.

Because I haven’t been… in a really long time.

Blue

crash-site-of-a-spaceship

I found more wires.  I hope these are the ones we need.

P. S. What’s your favorite colour?  
~L.C.”


‘Blue.  My favorite color is blue.’  I reply on her notepad.

I hope She never asks me where the meat is from.

I cut the grey flesh into jagged pieces, a piece of control panel as my makeshift cutting board, and a jagged metal slat as my knife.  The twisted metal juts from the bulkheads and dangles from the wall like the broken ribs of a dying animal. The skin on my cutting board tears and rips, into tiny bite sized pieces.  I am thankful my hands are working.

I put the control panel over one of the many holes in the floor.  This hole, a ruptured exhaust line, burps heat.  God knows this planet is hot enough without the ship spitting out more fire, but it’s concentrated enough to cook.  Soon the discolored meat on my tray begins bubbling on  my makeshift grill.

The life support generator hums beneath my feet.  It rattles precariously, like an old dusty man on a ventilator wheezing his last breaths.  Dim yellowish lights flicker overhead, shuffling in irregular in time with the palpitating power supply.

I run my hands over my face and my arms.  Sunken eye sockets, narrow tallow cheekbones, scratchy scabs along my forearms.  But at least the skin is there.  At least my skin has grown back.    My eyes fixate on the only other light in the room besides the faint ruddy yellow glow of the life support lights– the blue glowing tube in the corner of the room.

– – – –

The headache starts.  Soon it’ll be the teeth.  That’s how I keep track of time.  Not by a ticking watch or a blinking light, but by how sick I am.   I lost count of the days.  All I know is every day I die a little, and I come back a little less each time.

There probably were a lot of us at first.  Survivors.  Huddled together in the darkest bowels of the ship, like fleas clinging to the carcass of a rotting lamb. Most of them probably died alone and scared in the dark.  Trapped under debris or burnt to death in the subsequent fires that tore through everything.   I still encounter pieces of them.  Bodies fused into the side of the ship.  Skin and metal charred together, bones wedged into walls, femurs and steel girders, hair and wires all thrown together in a chaotic smoldering tangle.  I scrape off what I can’ into my metal can.

I was lucky.  I found the Medical Officer.   “We’re on a planet too close to a sun.” he said.  And sure enough, within a few short hours there was the thirst, and then the vomiting, and then later the blisters and the peeling.  Our hair was falling out, and then teeth,  and then the skin just sloughed off in sheets and people collapsed into piles of used-to-be.

It was the Medical Officer’s idea to use the tubes.  With a crew of two-thousand people, injures happen.  Every ship is required to have at least two.  We had four.  A lot of good that did us.  Two smashed in half in the crash by a collapsed beam.  One too broken to repair, and the last one… miraculously intact with a patient still inside.

…Her.

– – – –

I never asked why she was in the tube.  I was awake during the whole crash.  Tumbled around in the wreckage, trapped in the smoke and chemicals, hearing the cries of my crew mates echo through the darkness.  I know how we got here.  But to see her startled face, awaking to five charred survivors looking expectantly at her, forcing her out of the only safe place left on this whole planet to share in our misery.  It felt like we were robbing her.

I never asked her why she was in the tube.

– – – –

“It takes complex proteins” the Medical Officer explained.  “A slurry of DNA to rebuild the damaged cells on the human body.  We have the commercially synthesized stuff, stocked to the brim in cans.  But really, anything will do.”  I scrape my collection of my fellow travelers into one of the cans.  I stir it around with a long metal rod and then pour it into the intake feed top of the tube.  Really ‘anyone’ will do.

My teeth already hurt like my  jaw was clenched all day. I sneeze into my dirty shaking hand.   There’s the tell-tale dark stain of ash and blood.  I’ve just got to hold out for a few more hours.

– – – –

The shakes make it almost impossible to get any work done at the end.  I slump down at the foot of the tube.  My vision swims and doubles.  If only we had two tubes.  I imagine yanking her out of there and taking my turn early, just to ease my agony.  I shake my pulsing head and push that dark thought as far from me as I can.  Guilt, makes me  throw that thought as far as I can across the room.  In the darkest corner of the far wall, faintly illuminated in the ruddy yellow light, it lands amongst four small bundles stacked neatly side by side.

Desperation makes people do savage things.

Soon I can’t even sit upright.  The shakes have me doubled over, and curled up in the fetal position.  My knees rattle against my chin, my fingernails raking against my shins.  Loose skin comes away like peeling paint.  Just a little bit longer now.

– – – –

The timer goes off.  My eyes are permanently fixated on the tube, my eyelids shredded away into tiny flecking scabs until nothing but my burning eyeballs remain.  My fingers, contorted into twisted little talons clutching desperately at the base of the machine like some plague victim pleading for salvation.  The tube opens with a chromatic hiss, and an Angel steps out and helps me hobble inside.

– – – –

It’s like waking up, but to the same bad dream.  I’m alive again, but just a little less than where I was before.  She’s at my feet, like a broken withered tree.  This time she’s gnawed through her cheeks, her tongue flopping lifelessly in the skeletal cage that is her mouth.  Her pale blue eyes look up at mine.   It breaks my heart every time.  I  pick her up.  She weighs so little.  I put her into the tube.

She left me another note:

I found more sheeting.  Stacked them in the corner for you.   I like blue too.  After this, let’s escape to somewhere blue.
  ~L.C.

– – – –

We keep escaping for a few hours at a time, but never long enough to fully be free.  I’ve made a decision.  Something heavy that’s been in my heart for the past few weeks, growing in weight and size until it’s crashing through my chest like a ship launched off its trajectory as the only thing left.

I skip breakfast and begin work.  The headache begins early without food.  My fingers work furiously bending and molding the metal to fit alongside the tube.  I use the bits of wire she collected to fasten it, and twist the sharp angles into place.  I add more metal upon metal, building upwards from the bottom until it nearly touches the ceiling.

There’s no time to stop and admire my handiwork.  My face is already numb and I can feel the skin bubbling off from my fingers.  I begin opening all the remaining canisters of protein and pouring them in.  All of our supply every bit and scrap of human I could ever find, emptied into my makeshift hopper on top of the tube.

My knees begin to shudder.  Soon I won’t be able to stand.   I need to make this quick.  My knotted fingers punch clumsily at the dials on the tube.  I adjust the timer, from just a few hours, to a few days, to a few months, to… just on.  Permanently on.  At least one of us can escape to somewhere blue.

In the final hours, the shakes have me doubled over and on the ground.  I hope you can escape to somewhere blue.  Escape to somewhere blue.  It repeats over and over in my head as the pain begins to wrack my body with shudders and convulsions.  Somewhere blue, as my arms begin seizing and shuddering uncontrollably.  Somewhere blue, as my teeth begin falling out of my dangling jaw and my eyelids are blinked off for the last time.   Somewhere blue.  My eyes fixate on a distant point on the floor.  Something I’ve never seen before, possibly dislodged by my recent construction.  It’s a medical report:

Lisa Cartel
Sex: Female
Height: 5’4”
Eyes: Blue
Medical status:

My burning eyeballs read further down the page.  These will be the last thoughts, the last memories for me…

Patient is terminal.  Medical Officer recommends prolonged stasis until she can be released to her family to spend her final days at home.

…What, have I done?

Prize Box

I can’t be the only one who does this:

I’ve got a bunch of cool little nick-nacks in my “saved for later” cart on Amazon.  Little random stuff like a new shifter knob for my car, or a quiver for my arrows, or a new LED flashlight/phone charger, or a knife sharpener.  Things that I don’t really need, but are kinda cool and useful.  Whenever I have a good week where I don’t waste money or do anything stupid, I go ahead and buy one of them for myself.

Now that I think about it, growing up my parents had a prize box for me… where if I didn’t get into trouble in school or sent to the office or fight with my siblings, I got a small prize out of there.  I’ve implemented the exact same reward system for myself.  I suppose spanking never really worked.

Funny how I’m an “adult”, but still very much the same.

Moving Targets

My life has been going great.  This month alone, I’ve accomplished a lot.  I couldn’t fix my old car, so I bought a new one.  I learned to drive a stick-shift in the span of half a day.  I’m no longer mopeding around like some college hipster; instead I’ve skipped a step entirely on gone strait to mid-life-crisis car.  Gosh, I hope that doesn’t mean I’m dying at sixty.

20150930_111702-01
death of the Dragon…

20150921_141522-02
…birth of the Serpent.

I published my first book online.  I can actually tell people I am a published author and not just an aspiring one.  Sure I’ve only sold enough copies to cover somewhere between a dinner for two at Olive Garden and half a ticket to see Book of Mormon… but people have bought my book.  People have spent time out of their lives reading what I have to say.

But now that it’s done– it’s done.  I used to lie awake in bed thinking about this moment.  The moment I’m driving again as a published author.  Now that I am in this moment, there’s an emptiness.  It’s not that it isn’t satisfying, it’s that satisfaction has already worn off and I am inventing new targets for further down the line.  Why am I still dating, when people way stupider and uglier than me are already married and popping out kids?  I need to get into a marriage-worthy relationship.  I’ve only sold my book to friends and family… I need to get strangers to read it.  I need to hike more, and eat salads, and get into better shape.  I need to write another book…

I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with what my life has given me.  And I think I’m okay with that.

I am the favored Instrument of the Universe

I’ve been taking these long solitary hikes, and I’ve been evaluating my life.  And the more I think about it, the more I realize my life is awesome.

For every hardship I’ve ever endured I’ve always inadvertently stumbled into something better.  I find a job I love, I lose that job and I fall into an even better version of said job.  I lose a meaningful relationship, a veritable buffet of new ones opens up to me.  When The Universe closes a door, somewhere a wall falls down.  And there are like… a bunch of nazi-gold hidden in the asbestos.  Yeah that’s the metaphor I was going for.

I have an extraordinary and expansive support system of family and friends.  Part safety net, part fire blanket, I’ve always had the support to take risks and to rebound unscathed.  I was never tied down or smothered… there was always just enough give for me to experience the full gambit of things without breaking beyond repair.

I was born anatomically attractive, but never to the point where I could ever coast on my looks.  It was always a slight gust of wind to help push me through the door, and never the reason doors were opened for me in the first place.  And because of my so-so looks, I was forced to develop skills and talents.

Good things constantly happen to me.  But it took several readjustments of my aperture of life to see things that way.  I was never falling or failing.  There were only minor setbacks and meaningful triumphs.  The me I am today, is the best and strongest version I’ve ever been.  And tomorrow, I’ll be even better.  Imagine that.

And I realize, the deck is perpetually stacked in my favor.  It is impossible for me to fail or fall– for very long or very far.  So I look at my success as a writer as a bygone conclusion, and all that’s left is figuring out how long or how round about the course is to get there.  Do I want to be a millionaire while my parents are still able to enjoy it with me?  Or do I want to be old and drooping by the time I’m reaping the benefits of my work?

All that’s left is to put in the hours and the work.  There is no carrot or the stick anymore.  There is just the road.

*Also, my book is coming out in six weeks.*

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