Thursday, August 27, 2009


Whenever we leave town I get really excited. It doesn't matter if we're heading to Anaheim to see Disneyland or Seattle to see friends or South Dakota to see family or when we're just taking visiting guests down to Skid Row to make a spectacle of the homeless and hungry. I love being at home but I LOVE me a good adventure. The idea of traveling down a long and lonesome road, not sure what dangers and excitement lie ahead. A hitchhiker? A tourist attraction? A blown tire? Around every bend could be the abandoned nail in the road that will cause you to stop in the middle of nowhere, perhaps in the middle of the night, completely helpless save for your cunning wits.

When Jade and I lived in Denver, Jade's mom made a big move herself into the mountains of Colorado. She and a friend purchased a beautiful piece of estate on the very plateau of this monstrous hill overlooking eternal valleys in all directions. You talk about Heaven on Earth, this was it. Dogs and horses pretty much ran free. The house was an elegant log cabin and was kept warm by a fire place. There was nobody around (literally) for miles. You could remove your clothes and take a stroll through the front yard in the middle of the day if you so chose. The thing, however, that I found most often stopped me from walking around naked was my mother-in-law. I realized that strutting through the front lawn with the cocktail weiner and hackie-sack exposed was, perhaps, a bad idea. Regardless, you get the idea. Complete isolation. If a snow storm hit, you were trapped until the plow dug you out. Think, "The Shining".

It was a Friday and I had just wrapped up my classes for the week. Jade and I were heading to the mountain resort to spend the weekend with her mom. It was about a three hour drive, easily, and Jade had made it the day before. She finished her classes on a Thursday and decided to just get out of town a little earlier. I packed my clothes, always indecisive about what to bring on a trip - any trip. I never want to be OVER packed. That is a nuisance. But, more than anything, I don't want to be UNDER packed. What if I realize, too late, that I need a sweater? What if I realize, too late, that my sweater doesn't match my jeans? What if I realize, too late, that I really really really want to be wearing my cords rather than jeans? Are these THE two t-shirts I want to be stuck with for the next three days? How many pairs of underwear will I need? Two. One for Friday / Saturday. One for Sunday. I decide to bring three in case I have an "accident". This fear is founded upon nothing but I am aware of it's existence and potential. I love to fart loud and hard and this sometimes puts me in danger of surprises. I pack one pair of sneakers then decide to toss in my flip-flops for good measure. I take a pair of shorts to sleep in and then decide that if I'm taking shorts I should take a night robe. I take a jacket since it would be unfair to JUST bring a sweater and I also bring a beanie and a billed cap, one pair of sunglasses, one pair of seeing glasses, two pairs of socks, no three, just in case I step in a puddle I want a clean back-up. I bring a book and then decide to bring a second one just in case I finish the first one. I bring my journal, my sketch book and my idea notebook along with three separate pens. I pack a school book incase I'm feeling academic and an individual notebook for that. I don't bother with deodorant or toothpaste, assuming they'll have it there, but I do put away my toothbrush and prescription pills that keep me from having petite mal seizures. I don't own a wallet so I stick a few bills in my pocket along with my driver's license and credit card. I finally shove it all into a black plastic garbage bag and head out of the dorms, realizing, halfway down the hall that I've forgotten to burn my four new "Road Music" CDs and that I may as well grab a vest while I'm back.

I'm on the road. I'm leaving Denver behind for the next few days and am on my way to destination: Canon City......well, it's about an hour into nowhere OUTSIDE of Canon City but CC is the final stop for all things civilization. So I'm in my new (to you) Ford Taurus, which, for all means and purposes has been a completely reliable car. I purchased it in South Dakota just after high school and drove it to Colorado. It's gotten me all around The Mile High City and I've never had to do anything to it short of put gas in it and change it's brakes, which actually, is another story altogether.

I exit the city and am driving down a two lane freeway heading south. The drive is smooth and the temperature is A-OK. To the left of me I notice a waist high cement wall begin - the sort of wall that is announcing road construction. To the right of me I notice the same stone wall begin, barricading us into our auto-stalls. None of this is strange or out of the ordinary. In South Dakota they say we have two seasons: winter and road construction. What WAS strange, however, was when the cement wall to the left of me began to slant towards us, slowly blocking out the left lane completely. At this point there is no shoulder to the road. It is completely edge-to-edge lane. I am in a line of herded mechanical cattle following the butt-end in front of me. I am being led to a slaughter and I am smiling about it. Vacation! Adventure! Excitement!

It happens at about the point when I can't see the beginning of the cement wall behind me and I can't yet see the end of it in front of me that my trustworthy Ford Taurus decides to have it's very first panic-attack (they grow up so quick!). It sputters and spurts. It coughs and lurches. It leaps and then I'm left pumping the gas, wondering why nothing is catching. I'm slamming my foot into the pedal, staring at my floorboards like I'm lit up (on drugs). The car is slowing 45 the guy behind me starts to honk, alerting me, just in case I hadn't noticed, that I am now moving at a snail's pace along the coasting freeway. 35.......30......27........the cars behind him are honking. Perhaps they think I'm narcoleptic and have fallen asleep at the wheel? Perhaps they think I have Alzheimer's and have forgotten where I am? Perhaps they think I'm just some punk kid pulling some jerk-prank on weary traveler's? What they don't know is that it's just me, alone, in my car, screaming at my feet pressing the pedals. It's just me alone swearing and hitting the console, shouting Nazi-like commands at a piece of machinery that won't listen. It is just me alone, getting suddenly very hot and sweaty on a nice day. 20.......15.......11.....I'm sure I'm just going to stop. I'm just going to roll to a gentle stop and I will sit still in the seat for a moment and I will whisper to myself, "God, why hath Thou forsaken me?" I will step out of my car, place my sneaker on the hot tar and I will be torn to pieces and burnt at the stake by the modern day angry villagers behind me. They will pull out their modern day torches, ie guns and they will burn me with their modern day flames, ie bullets. the not-too-distance I see the end of the cement wall. In my panic and mind-chaos I hadn't been watching to see when the road would open up again. I try rocking my body back and forth, giving my car that extra bit of momentum to reach it's destination. And here it was. And just beyond the cement wall, what do I find but a tow truck. A four-wheeled angel. It is sanctuary. Salvation. Heaven. Why hath Thou forsaken me? NEVER! I was but weak in faith. I pull over and a row of roughly seventeen people, young and old, black and white, weak and strong, flip me off, give me dirty looks or just plainly shake their heads in disgust. But no one stops. No one pulls over, thinking, "this young man is all alone on the freeway, having automobile problems. We should help." Instead they drive. I bet if I was a reality show star they'd all stop. They'd be lining up to help me. I kick a rock on the ground and pretend it was all of them. I tap it into the road and watch it get run over and I smile. Take that, you bastards.

I walk over to the tow truck and ask the guy for a quick jump. I say my car's all messed up but I think some juice would just get me to the gas station. He says sure. He sells it'll cost me twenty-five bucks. I tell him I don't have twenty-five bucks. I tell him I have roughly three and a credit card. I ask him if he can run the credit card and he says no. I ask him if he can just help me out. I tell him "that's my car right there - the one right there - the gray one". It's approximately eleven feet away and the only one that's not moving so I assume I don't need to be anymore accurate. He shakes his head and says no. He says he could get in some real trouble. I say please. I say I just need some help - person to person and he gets inside his tow truck and leaves me alone, on the road, wishing I were a reality star.

I watch this new boss bastard drive away and I pick up another rock and stare at it. I picture it's his head and I throw it out into the middle of nowhere. I glance around and notice, about half a mile up, that there's a cop writing someone a ticket. I look back the other way and just see a steady stream of people passing me, now pretending I don't exist. I'm beginning to get hungry and thirsty (I always pack the proper wardrobe and never the proper food supplies) and so I begin walking towards the police car. Certainly a man of the law, a protector of freedom and all things good would help a sort of dimwit in distress. Six blocks is really a lot further than you think. I begin to wonder if he's going to finish that ticket soon and get back in his car and drive off. I begin to wonder what I would do if that were to happen and I begin to jog and then to run. By the time I reach him he is indeed crawling back inside his car, oblivious to my shouts of, "Hey! Hey! Guy! Officer! Dude! Wait! Hey!" I finally get to him just as he turns the key in the ignition and I tap on the glass. He looks at me and I think briefly that I see his hand go to the butt of his gun. I motion for him to roll down his window and he does so, just a crack.

"Sorry....I just.....(this is me panting).....I's all messed up....I just need....a jump.....can you help......I'm sorry - I just ran......super tired......need a jump down the road...."

He looks in his rearview mirror and looks back at me and tells me he's not allowed to and I say, "WHAT!!!????" and he just looks at me from behind his mustache and sunglasses and I suddenly want to break his window and rip out his throat. I try to explain our dynamic to him. I tell him I am a citizen and that I pay taxes and that he is a policeman and gets paid from my taxes. He nods and agrees but says it's not his job and he's not supposed to use state vehicles to help people. I want to find the governor. I want to find the senator. I want to find the closest local mayor and I want to drag them out of bed and throw them in the middle of nowhere and tell them to walk home. I want to strip off their clothes and burn them and say, "Deal". I want to say "fine" to this cop and slowly walk away with my key dragging up the side of his stupid, useless car. I don't do this, though. Instead, I beg and finally, as it usually does, it works. He backs up the six blocks but, instead of letting me sit in the passenger seat or even the back of the car he just makes me walk.

When I finally get back I'm now too weak to kill this man even if I wanted to. He gives me a jump and my car starts and he tells me there's a gas station a ways up the road and that I should pull over there and put some water in my radiator. I say sure.

Huh.......nice guy.....

The next exit truly is the gas station and I do buy a gallon of water and a cold egg-salad sandwich. I pour the water into my radiator, I eat my sandwich and when a guy asks me for a few bucks for gas I give it to him, deciding that I would rather die than join the ranks of the Complete Effing Dick Hole Army. I don't even care if he's going to buy booze or broads or blow with it. I tell him what happens and he seem sympathetic before quickly running inside the gas station to buy, what? A pack of cigarettes, probably.

I fire up my ride and push on, praying hard, that something like this doesn't happen again. The going is good and I'm listening to my "Road Mix 3" CD and all is well. The sun is just setting and it's beautiful over the mountains, outlining them in red, turning them into black silhouettes. I cruise through Canon City and am officially past civilization. The traffic goes away, people are scarce, homes are few and far between. The sun drops like a ball and night falls around me. I take a left off the main highway onto Tallahassee Road, marked simply by a cross with white paint scrawling the sloppy letters. I drive a solid thirty five minutes into nothing. I am driving between hills. I am taking rights and lefts on unmarked roads, navigating from memory, getting lost in the mountains. I am in the shroud of darkness and, besides the shine of my headlamps, there is no light, save a few stars and besides the hum of my motor, there is no noise, save for nothing. Solitude. I have entered no-man's land and I am alone. And now, it is at this moment, this time of shining realization that I feel the beast below me sputter and spit and go heavy. I pump the pedal and nothing, just as before. I swear and I curse but I do so quietly, fearing the sound of my voice against the backdrop of nothing. It sounds too foreign to me so I zip it.

The car rolls to a stop and in front of me I see fifteen feet of dirt road and then black space. Behind me I see the dirt, reflected red from my taillights and to the left and right of me is a sea void of any characteristics. Steam is rising under my hood and I have no water left and I curse myself for not buying another jug. I lift up the hood and suddenly, from far off, but not far enough, I hear a noise and I turn in that direction. A footstep?


I get back in my car, hood still up and I pull out my cell phone. I'll just call Jade and June and they'll come help me out. I must be only twenty minutes away now. I can keep cool for that long. I can be brave. I can be a big boy. I flip open the phone and I am getting zero reception and I think that the noise was definitely a footstep and that somewhere, much like "The Truman Show" there are people watching my life right now, only instead of a funny drama, my life is a horror movie. I am that first character to get killed off. The one who gets the ax in the first ten minutes just so you know what you're up against. I am the nameless drifter, receiving nothing more in the credits than "First Victim".

I roll the window down, just a crack, and remind myself of the officer and can suddenly sympathize with him. The desolate mountain range. A strange, desperate wanderer suddenly knocking on your window, wild eyed and covered with sweat. I roll the window back up and just pray that that I don't die. I wish my dad were here, not as a protector because he probably fights just as well as I do, but as a mechanic. I want him to be hunched over in front of the hood of my car, twisting knobs, pulling levers and saying, "there ya go" and then I'm off. But he's not and I've never gathered any sort of automotive wisdom from him and that decision I am now firmly regretting.

I get out of my car and wander back to the hood, hoping that I see something obvious. Maybe a squirrel stuck between some gears. Maybe a......I don't know. I don't even know what it's supposed to look like when NOTHING is wrong with it. Who am I kidding? And then another footstep and then something is being thrown. An acorn? A rock? I turn into the darkness and I shout, suddenly, and without thinking, "HEEEEELLLOOOOO!!!!????" and my voice echoes and bounces and rolls off the hills forever, again and again, bouncing through the valleys and there is no answer and I think, "Duh, Sasquatch doesn't talk....and even if he did, it certainly wouldn't be in English". And this was my conclusion. I was sure that day, in that darkness that there were one of two things hunting for me. Was a serial killer probable? No. POSSIBLE, but not probable. PROBABLE was The Elusive Sasquatch. I was positive a hairy, eight foot tall, mangy beast was going to come strolling from the darkness, seen only too late and twist my head off my shoulders with a swift swipe and a howl. OR.....the other thought was zombies. I have a strange and exotic fear of zombies. I understand that they don't exist and I understand that it's foolish to believe, as an adult, that the dead walk among us, but I am afraid that I will be the person that discovers them. I will be, oh, let's say stranded on a dirt road somewhere, the mountains perhaps? And I will hear a noise and my car will be exhausted and my phone will be charged but useless and I will discover the walking dead, one, two, three of them, perhaps once buried in shallow graves. I will run through the woods blindly, not knowing where I'm heading or where I came from. I won't be able to see anything and I'll probably either a.) get lost and fall down a pit, break my leg and starve to death, b.) get caught by a horde of zombies in another part of the mountains or c.) get trapped by Sasquatch and have my puny head twisted off.

I shut my hood, get back in my car and try the starter. Nothing, nothing, nothing, SOMETHING! It roars to life. I give it a second, not wanting to rush what may turn out to be my only chance at survival. I slowly pull it into drive, coast, coast, coast, gas, and then I'M OFF! Lefts, rights, lefts, break off when necessary, follow the long driveway up the curve of the hill and breach the plain. The house has many windows and they are all shining with light, beacons of hope in the darkness. I pull up behind Jade's car, say, "Thank you, God, for not allowing me to die tonight by the vicious and savage hands of Sasquatch or by the rotting black teeth of zombie men and women". I get out of my car and head inside. Everyone is happy to see me. Everyone is wondering where I've been. Everyone is saying they've been calling me and couldn't get through.

"Yeah", I say, "tell me about it".

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Theresa Darlin'

The game happens at wedding receptions. The bride and groom choose eight people, give or take a few, to partake in a dance competition. The competitors are called out, one by one, onto the stage and asked to place a paper bag over their head before dancing commences. This is to ensure that there will be no cheating. No move stealing. The DJ yells go and everyone begins flailing arms, shaking legs and jiggling bottoms. It's supposed to be a lot of fun.

Things didn't go exactly as planned.......

My younger sister was born in 1984. My parents named her Theresa Darlene Brookbank after both of her grandmothers. She hates her middle name because it is reminiscent of "darling", which she believes could be easily confused with any number of other pet names. Theresa Sweetheart Brookbank. Theresa Honey Dumpling Brookbank. Theresa Cookie Brookbank. When talking to her or shouting out for her attention in a large and crowded room, I'll usually go for the shorter, more concise T, Teets, Hog Teet or T-bag. When we were children, three and four, four and five, Theresa would call me Boy. It was a child's nickname for a person who's name she couldn't quite seem to grasp. It wasn't nearly as colorful as the code names I had chosen, but it certainly got the message across in the simplest way possible. It immediately let you know who she was talking to and what gender they were. The only confusion I thought the name held was my ethnicity. I constantly felt as though people were looking around for the black slave that was put in charge of this young white plantation heir. She'd stand at my side, six inches, a foot shorter than me, whispering my name, never talking louder than a mouse fart, trying to get my attention, needing me to do something for her, "I need a spoon........." or "tie my shoes.........." or "get me water.............". It was very easy to look over her if a dog was barking, a siren was passing or the wind was merely blowing. She was just a very soft spoken child.

In public, my sister would stand next to my mom, never getting too far out of sight and if she needed something and there was anyone around, it was imperative that she whisper directly into my mother's ear. As she got older, what we all thought was being "soft spoken" became full fledged shyness. Once she was four and five, if you needed to ask her something and weren't in our immediate family, she would bring up her forearm and cover her eyes, trying to stick her head in the sand like a human ostrich. The answers she held for you, the keys to your clues, were locked up tight. There was no use trying. You could tie her up, hang her upside down and stick bamboo shoots under her fingernails. She probably wouldn't even scream because it would be considered too much of an extrovert activity.

Elementary school began and Theresa's condition had now turned from "being shy" into a full blown "condition". At the start of kindergarten, my mom ends up mailing a letter to the teacher, informing her that Theresa was indeed just "exceptionally shy" and not "mentally ill". My mother tells her that Theresa will just sit at her desk and listen, she won't say a word, not even if she has to go to the bathroom. She'll just sit there and develop a bladder infection rather than speak. The school probably could have enrolled Theresa in some sort of special education program designed for children who didn't know how to speak and it's very likely that our family never would have known about it. Theresa merely would have continued to attend school, sitting in the back of a class filled with handicapped children and listen while the teachers and teachers aides tried to teach these six and seven year olds the alphabet and how to count to ten.

It's first grade and Theresa gets a bloody nose. Maybe it just happened. Maybe it's really dry in the classroom. Maybe she forgot to breathe. Crimson driblets are pulsing slowly down her face, making her nose look like a leaky faucet from the Amytiville House. In real life she doesn't raise her hand. In her imagination she does and twenty some children turn their soft, white cherubic faces in her direction, staring at her like porcelain dolls. They all watch and none blink. They are the judge, jury and executioners of the school. They weren't friends with her but they could judge. They could think. They could wonder. She could go to the teacher's desk, but that would require interaction, talking, speaking and all she was really capable of was grunting for yes and hissing for no. Plus all the children's eyes - their black glass eyes watching her step by step up the aisle. What if they all pointed? What if they all laughed? Would the teacher join in? What would she do? Run out of the room? To the bathroom? Down the hall? Home? These options couldn't even be considered. Drastic measures needed to be taken.

She opens her desk and finds her box of Kleenex. As children, kleenex were always on the list of school supplies we had to buy. Pencils, notebook, ruler, kleenex. Hey, everyone has to blow their nose and for the kids who didn't actually enjoy eating the glue (like my wife did) we actually preferred to wipe it off on something. So Theresa grabs the box and blows her nose into it, turning it from a virgin hanky into a used tampon. She shoves the kleenex towards the back of her desk and grabs for another one. She continues this process, desperately trying to plug the problem, trying to remain quiet and inconspicuous among the enemy. It is always the person who wants to be noticed least that will be noticed most. When you are trying to sneak around, you look suspicious and people become interested. I picture her lifting up her desk casually and then desperately shoving her fingers into her nose, rolling them around the cartilage, trying to mop up every drip of this catastrophe before someone notices. I picture her peeking her eyes up over the top of her raised desktop and glancing around. i picture her feet hanging a few inches above the floor, the toes of her saddle shoes tapping up and down nervously. I picture the kids slowly getting one another's attention, pointing at her. I picture the teacher sitting behind her big wooden desk thinking, "Maybe I should enroll her in Special Ed...."

One after the other her kleenexes are stacking up, starting to form a big red pile behind her school books when finally, as bloody noses do, just stops. She lowers her desk hatch, never raising her eyes, never looking at anyone and just begins to read.

As she gets older, the problem does anything but solve itself. During church, at communion when everyone stands up and walks down the aisle to receive the bread and wine, Theresa just stays seated at the pew, watching as everyone else heads down, one at a time. She looks at each and every one of them and thinks there is no way anyone will be looking at her. She begins taking jobs that allow her to avoid the public eye whenever possible. First she gets a newspaper route that requires her to work at 4am before the vast majority of people are out and about or even awake. When she needed more money she got a job at a fast food restaurant, requesting that she stay in back and never ever under any circumstances work the register or the drive-thru.

I'm over at her house one day and hungry. I get up to get some food from the fridge without asking. These are the things that make family. You can say anything at anytime. You have the liberty of searching through anything they have sitting out and you don't have to ask when you want some food. You just get up and open the fridge and open the cupboards and take whatever you want as long as it doesn't look too expensive and you eat it. So I walk into her kitchen (she's living on her own, alone now) and I open up the refrigerator and see a can of Bud Light, two slices of cheese and a box of baking soda. I open the freezer and find ice trays without ice in them. I move to the cabinets, sure I'd be able to at least drum up a few old bread heels for a dry cheese sandwich. No. There's some canned spinach and some chocolate syrup. I sigh and grab the spinach, asking her if I happened to miss the butter. "No", she says, "I don't have any butter". "Garlic salt?" I ask. If I'm going to choke down canned spinach, it can't be just plain. I'd rather starve. As it turns out she DOES have garlic salt. In fact, she has quite the supply of different seasonings. I ask where it all came from and she says, "Mom". I ask her if she ever cooks and she says, "Sure". I ask why she doesn't have any food and she says she doesn't like going to the grocery store alone. She says it makes her uncomfortable. I ask why and she says she doesn't know. She says it's just all those people, all of them around her, watching her. I try to tell her that they're not watching her but she politely disagrees.

I ask her if she's ever seen those Verizon Wireless commercials - the ones with "The Network" - the large group of people that follow the nerdy looking cat in the glasses around and she says yes. I ask her if that's, like, her worst nightmare. I say, "Imagine you're walking down the street and you just turn around and there is a thousand people just standing behind you, staring at you. Would you scream?" She considers it for a moment and then says, "Have you seen my new Chia pet? It's hair all fell out. It looks like it's going through chemotherapy". She gets up and puts on a hat, considers herself in the mirror and turns to me. "Do I look good in hats?" I tell her yes. She looks back in the mirror, makes a face and throws the hat on the couch. I ask her what she eats, how she eats and when, truly interested and just slightly concerned for her well being. She says, "Burger King. Every day. Dollar menu. Sometimes soup. Mom brings me soup sometimes."

I cook my spinach and she warns me that it tastes bad and is really old. I dump too much garlic salt in to try to mask it's natural flavor and take a bite. She's right. We go buy tacos.

I proposed to my wife while still in college and we got married after we'd both graduated and were living together in LA. We planned on doing a beach wedding and just saying that anyone who wanted to come could and anyone who couldn't make it didn't have to bother. It seemed like a pretty simple layout to us but our families, who ALL lived in South Dakota weren't quite buying it. They begged us. They tried to "reason" with us. They bartered with us. "If you come back to South Dakota.........EVERYONE that is planning on buying plane tickets to fly out will give you their travel money as a wedding present." We'd ask, "Then why don't they just use that money and come out?" Apparently that wasn't the point. We (my wife, mostly, I guess) planned the wedding from Los Angeles and when it was time to head back, we did. We caught a plane, flew into Sioux Falls, bought a car before the wedding day and planned on driving it back to LA for our honeymoon, taking a ten day trip.

I was the first one to arrive at the church on the day of the wedding. I showed up at 10:30, got dressed and ready by 10:45 and then waited. Jade's dad and brothers showed up next, then came my dad and then my friends. We were all ready and everyone came and went from the room the men were assigned as they saw fit. Everyone but me. I was trapped like some caged animal because I wasn't allowed to see my girlfriend / fiance / wife before the wedding. I had to pee and a five point security parameter was set up just so I could shake out a few drops. The groom's room doubled as a children's classroom on Sunday's so all the chairs were too small to sit on and I was afraid I would break the desks.

At 3:30 the reverend came in while I was alone and asked, without warning, if I was ready to head out in about five minutes. I nodded yes and felt like I was going to throw up and pass out, probably in the reverse order, ruining my tux. Where was everyone? Why was nobody in the room with me? Oh, that's right, they were all out having a good time at my wedding, enjoying each other's company, while I sat alone on a toddler's stool, looking like bad boy Baby Huey. The door opens and Jade's two older brothers walk in. Jordan has skin that is white like paper and a flaming red afro and is a year older than me. I constantly find myself staring into his eyes while he speaks and wondering what his pubes look like. Jarod is three years older than me, has a fit build and I constantly find myself staring into to his eyes while he speaks, wondering what Jordan's pubes look like. They enter and I'm relieved that I'll get a little pep talk before I go out there. "Good work. Don't be nervous. Just relax - it's your BIG DAY!" These are the things I've seen groomsmen say to one another on TLC and thought it was probably how it worked in real life. Instead they both corner me and say, "You have time to run. It's not too late. Your car is right out by the curb. If you leave now you can still make it." I am cornered and claustrophobic feeling and sweating and my stomach is in knots. I feel as though I'm floating through unreality. Maybe I'll wake up soon. The reverend opens the door and stares at the three of us in a way that suggests the older brothers were just finishing up a pep talk for the groom to be. "Good work. Don't be nervous. Just relax - it's your BIG DAY!". He stares at us and says, "are you ready?" and I exhale and say "yeah". Jordan and Jarod fall in line behind me and as we exit the room Jarod says, "There's the door...." and we pass the door and Jordan says, "It's too late...."

I walk my soon to be mother-in-law down the aisle and before sitting down, she gives me a big kiss on the cheek, leaving whorish lipstick marks on the side of my face. I have no way of knowing this so I just wander to the back, smiling, wondering why everyone I see is touching their cheek. I touch mine, thinking maybe I had a piece of toilet paper or crumb stuck to my jaw. Nothing. I ignore it and walk my mom down to her seat.

I'm standing at the front of the church and pretty much everyone I know is sitting in front of me. I look out into the crowd and think how small it is. Surely most of the people I know just didn't show up. Shouldn't this place be packed? The bridal march begins and all the couples walk down - my cousin with Jade's best friend, the girl who introduced us with Jordan. My sister with Jarod. Theresa looks like she's holding it together alright but I briefly wonder what's going on inside her head. Is she as nervous as I am? All these people staring at her? Is she about to bolt? Is she having cold feet? I wonder if all the anxiety I was feeling in the back room was being shared by my sister on the other side of the church. We smile at each other, both of us surprised that I'm getting married and then she's passed me, standing on the alter, holding her flowers in a death grip, praying to God that she doesn't pass out. Little does she know, I'm praying the same thing, trying to take the only real advice Jarod and Jordan DID give me. "Don't lock up your knees. You'll pass out." I keep trying to squat a little, trying to keep my knees cocked just slightly.

Silence. A song starts. Women know it as "Canon in D Major". Men know it as "The Here Comes the Bride song". Jade steps through the doorway and rounds the corner with her dad. A million moments in your life to redo and this one you only get once (hopefully). I try to soak it all up and in doing so feel a lump form in my throat like some cancerous mass. My vision suddenly turns to Ripplevision and I am suddenly horribly aware that I am about to start crying. I think of Theresa again. I think of her telling me that she's afraid to stand at the front of church for communion, afraid all the strangers will look at her. I think about how it feels to cry in front of everyone (is that really ALL of them) that you know. I force it back and it steps forward, reclaiming my strength.

A groom crying at his own wedding. How beautiful. Women like that, right? I suppose so. My aunt sees me and smiles and I think, "Okay. Everyone thinks it's precious. I can deal with precious". Then my aunt nudges her sister and her sister nudges her sixteen year old daughter and they all start to snicker. I suddenly realize that many people are glancing at me, looking at me, watching me, wondering if the tears are going to spill over. I tilt my head up towards the ceiling and squint. I pretend I have something in my eye. I rub it out and now I'm certain my eyes look red. Jade is suddenly standing next to me and so everyone is looking at us - the beautiful bride with her sobbing, weeping man-baby. I quickly turn around and drag her up the steps, carrying us away from all those people staring at me. I rub my eyes again and turn myself away from my sort of brother-in-laws. My back has been to them the entire time and they know nothing of my little breakdown and I'd like to keep it that way.

We get to the vows and the reverend says, "Repeat after me. With this ring......." and I try repeating it but am crying and I have to stop and stare at my feet, trying to gain composure. I look over Jade's shoulder, to my sister, who is smiling but I realize that it is a friendly smile and not a smug one. I finish my lines like an actor on a stage and am instantly awarded the Longest Time to Repeat Vows award. Next is Jade and she starts off okay but then breaks down and I'm not sure which is worse, crying alone or crying together. Her crying seems to be setting me off, making it impossible for me to stop. My sobs have become uncontrollable and I feel helpless. I want nothing more than to just have my face be dry and why am I SO HOTTTTT? Jade tries slipping my ring on my finger but I've gotten nervous and when that happens, my fingers bloat up like chubby little sausages. I don't know the exact science behind why or how this works but I believe it has something to do with an evolutionary cause and effect. She pushes the ring down to the top of my second knuckle and then just stops, not able to force it. I stare at my ring finger and realize it looks like it's wearing a golden belt.

The reverend finishes up his message, marries us and we turn to face everyone. The tears suddenly stop and the clouds part and the day is sunny. As it turns out I will be able to walk out with a shred of dignity. We take a few steps down the alter and a violent spell wipes over me and tears begin streaming down my face. If I were wearing mascara I'd have looked like Tammy Faye Baker, I'm sure of it. I grip Jade's hand and we run down the aisle, salty tears streaming out behind us.

We hide in a back room, waiting for the guests to exit the church so they can throw confetti at us. Jade tells me to take off my ring and look inside. I do. She has engraved, "We're Not Gonna Make It" around the center. "Oh, WOW!" I say. We go outside and everyone is waiting for us. I take a few steps and one of my cousins throws a handful of confetti at me. It lands and rests in the hollows of my ears and sticks to the dampness of my face. He disappears into the crowd only to appear a few feet down the line with another handful. Where was he getting this stuff? He threw another fistful at me and this time I'm sure he had mixed in a few small pebbles. I was pelted in the side of the head and something hit me in the eye. I wiped it away and was certain everyone was thinking, "oh great, here we go AGAIN".

Outside the reception hall we had a marquee made that read, "John and Jade - Tying the Noose". We went in, got our dances out of the way and let the party begin.

There's a game that happens, mostly at wedding receptions. A dance competition. But there's a catch. The DJ tells us to pick our eight people. He tells us to choose whoever we want and tell them what's going to happen. We tell them that they place a paper bag over their head and start to dance. They agree. But then we tell them that when the music starts, they just take off the paper bag and walk off stage, leaving one person, who would be my cousin and best man, on the floor, unknowingly dancing wildly and stupidly, all alone, while everyone cheered on the invisible contestants. We choose Thomas and Brett, friends from college. We choose Jarod and Jordan, Jade's brothers. We choose Anna, the maid of honor and we choose Lindsay and my sister Theresa, our bridesmaids and we choose Mo, my best man. We tell all of them, minus Mo, that when the music begins, REMEMBER, just take off the bag and walk away. When we tell Theresa, she is sitting at a table behind two empty bottles of champagne and four bottles of Bud Light. She says, "I don't wanna do that". I say, "You don't have to. You just stand there and then you walk off" and she says, "I don't have to dance?" and I say, "No" and she says, "Okay".

So the DJ stops the music and announces the competition. He says we've chosen our people and he calls them out, one at a time. They take their spots and are given their paper bags. The music starts and the dancing begins, sort of. Six people reach up and remove their paper bags. Brett, Thomas, Jarod, Jordan, Anna and Lindsay all wander from the floor to join the audience. Theresa, who should've joined them, still has a paper bag over her head, her hands on her hips, shaking her butt back and forth. Mo has his arms in the air and is doing what I'm sure he would call "The Lasso". Theresa begins gyrating her arms back and forth, imitating a train. Mo holds out his arms like a capital T and begins spinning in circles. He falls down and his bag falls off. He tries to grab it, tries to keep it on, but happens to catch an eyeful of an empty dance floor, minus Theresa. The DJ shouts, "MO IS DISQUALIFIED. HIS BAG HAS FALLEN OFF! PLEASE STEP TO THE SIDE MO. YEAH, BRETT! NICE MOVES! KEEP IT UP ANNA!".

And there's my sister, quiet and shy, standing in front of two hundred people, four hundred eyes on her, a paper bag over her head as she holds the ends of her dress up and kicks out her legs in a burlesque style gesture. She bends over and cha-chas with her boobs. She turns around and shakes her butt in everyone's face. She suddenly and without warning lies down on the ground and begins doing her version of the worm, which pretty much amounts to her lying on the floor, rocking from side to side. The DJ shouts, "OKAY! THAT'S IT! I THINK THERESA HAS WON THE DANCE COMPETITION! YOU MAY REMOVE THE BAG!" and Theresa pulls off the paper bag and turns around and sees, standing behind her, what basically amounts to the entire Verizon Wireless network, staring at her and laughing, but in a good way.

She smiles and quickly exits the stage, heading back for her table. She grabs her beer, drops it and grabs the bottle of champagne, tilting it bottoms up like the Titanic. She says, shouts, over the music, "WHAT HAPPENED???" Jade and I, laughing, try to explain. She rests the champagne bottle against her face. "WE TOLD YOU TO TAKE OFF THE BAG!" "THE WHAT!!???" "THE BAG! YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO TAKE IT OFF!" "I DON'T KNOW!" she shouts. "WHEN DID YOU TALK TO ME?? WHEN DID WE TALK??"

People have begun pouring back onto the floor. Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" starts up and I grab Theresa's hand. "LET'S GO!" I scream. She takes it and I head out onto the dance floor with my sister and brand new wife.


The next day we open all of our presents and neither Jade nor I ever see one red cent of that plane ticket money offered to us by so many desperate and devoted relatives. Oh well, that's what family is. You lie and manipulate each other to get what you want.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Grunt Labor in the Mile High City

When I was a senior in high school I took a class called Critical Thinking which was taught by a temperamental man named Mr. Olson. A very tall and thin forty-something, one minute he would be laughing and joking, cracking the funnies and being corny and then someone would say something slightly off color and he'd be throwing one of his desk drawers across the room, red faced and sweating, veins bulging out the sides of his neck. He was a fluffy bunny with glasses and a rabid dog. He was a friendly cigar that explodes in your face. He was a pretty flower that sprayed you in the eyes with water that was really hot and burned you badly. I always treated Mr. Olson the way I would a pitbull or angry gorilla. You look at him, you smile, you keep your distance and you definitely don't try to sniff his balls.

Critical Thinking was the type of class that tried to make you think outside the box. Every week we'd get a packet some fifty pages long of news reports Mr. Olson had collected and we were instructed to read them all over night so we'd be well versed for discussions the next day in class. To this day I'm positive that no one ever finished an entire packet. In fact, I'm pretty sure almost everyone, save for the valedictorians, just found themselves skimming through as much as they could before class started, trying to figure out if their arguments were against abortion or if they believed that being gay was born or bred and why. There had to be a why. Always a why. Unlike our parents who stated, "because I'm your parent" we actually had to have a real legitimate reason for thinking the way we did.

One day the topic of being raped in college came up and we were all deciding if the elements involved could actually deem this case as rape or if the girl "had it coming". After the conversation, Mr. Olson asked if any of us were planning on going to college and roughly 90% of the class raised their hands, myself included. He wisely told the group that college would be expensive and asked how many of us had saved up $20,000 or more. About a third of the people raised their hands, all of them wearing name brand clothes and designer glasses. I was sure they misheard him. I was certain what they heard him say was, "how many of your parents are paying for your school that's going to cost $20,000 or more".

He asks how many people have saved up $10,000 and another third raises their hands. These are the upper middle class kids, the kids who won't ever own their own business or inherit their parents', but they will manage fast food chains and become successful dreamers. He follows the second place question up with the bronze, "how many have $5,000?" and then "how many have $1,000 saved up?" and that's pretty much it for the remaining third, minus me and the kid wearing the Cannibal Corpse shirt and I'm wondering how I got put into THIS group? Who signed me up to be on THIS team? I'm wearing khaki pants, Chuck Taylor sneakers and a shirt with a picture of Jesus on it. I should not be in this group. I look around and the class is sort of looking at me and I look at the Cannibal Corpse kid and I think he is asleep or dead and I think he has scars all over his wrists and up his arms from cutting himself. I attempt to distance myself visually from him by smiling at everyone, something I'm sure he would never do. I look towards the front of the class and Mr. Olson is staring at me, dead on, eyes peering into the back of my soul. He opens his mouth to speak. "...and finally, how many people were planning on going to college but haven't even begun to THINK about their financial situation?" And there it was. I slowly slip my hand into the air; the dirty, poor kid who loved Jesus more than money. Would Jesus carry him through college? Would Jesus buy him a hamburger? Would Jesus purchase his school books? I was the communist sympathizer, so uninformed of the world. A few of the trust fund babies laugh quietly and Mr. Mel Olson smiles. I'm sure he expected just as much out of me - always late to class, always grabbing for D's but constantly catching the F's, not talking much and when I do it's mostly in nervous garble and incomplete sentence structures, you know what I mean? Hmm? Dude?

When it came time to really put my nose to the grindstone and attend college I took out three Stafford loans for about six grand a piece and used these to cover the vast majority of my tuition and dorm fees. To get extra money to buy things like beer bongs, atari 2600s and a Honda motorcycle, I applied for a work study program and took up a job renting out camera equipment at a place in my school called The Cage. It paid me minimum wage but afforded me the luxury of becoming familiar with several different types of cameras, lights, sound gear and editing equipment. There were several people that worked there for free, volunteering their time simply because of the experience, so I considered myself lucky that I was receiving anything.

Two years and who knows how many working hours later, I was fired from The Cage when the director of the program discovered me drinking a glass of water in the computer lab. He'd been out for my blood for about the past six months for reasons (still) unknown to me and this was the opportunity he'd been looking for to nail the coffin closed. I was standing behind a group of students, helping to expedite their projects for the end of the semester when he spotted me through the plate glass doors with the rim of a cup (actually, strangely, it was a canteen) pressed against my lips. Normally, drinking water was not considered a crime in my school but in the computer labs, you may as well have been blowing your butt dump all over the monitors and keyboards for all he cared. It was restricted activity whichever way you cut it. Frederic came storming in, one heavy footstep after the next and stomped right up to me, stuck his thick New York finger in my general vicinity and said that I was, "finally done for" and that he "demanded my card". The security in the school was set up with keycards the faculty were given to grant access to certain doors and he was demanding I turn mine in. The entire class had stopped what they were doing to watch this showdown in Post 2. I pulled out my velcro wallet and opened it up. I pulled out a white keycard and he SNATCHED it out of my hand like a hungry eagle snagging a trout. He holds it up in front of my face and says, "You're never getting this back" and I say, "that's my keycard to the dorms". I dig back into my waller and pull out an identical keycard for The Cage. He hands me back the stolen keycard and takes the second one, this time a little slower and then says, "you won't be needing THIS anymore" and I say, "I guess not".

Had the confrontation ended there, I probably could have laughed the entire situation off and just moved on with my life, attaching myself to another job somewhere else, always holding a particularly vicious grudge in my heart for ol' Freddy baby, but it didn't stop there. He went on, making false accusations about me stealing equipment and returning things late and ruining other shoots; things so far-fetched it was hard to believe he wasn't just making it up as he talked. And again, had it been him and I in a room, alone, I probably would have laughed at him, mocked his strange New York / Georgian accent, stood up and walked out of his office.....but it wasn't. He was accusing me of these ludicrous charges in front of my schoolmates, both friends and strangers and making me look like a fool. I tell him "that never happened" and then I say again, "that never happened EITHER. Who told you this?" He says he just knows it's true and then turns to storm out, figuring that if he just leaves the room, he'll leave me behind as well. That, however, is not how I operate; I cling to your shoe like some piece of sticky dog turd you've stepped in. That said, he seemed relatively surprised when I chased him down the hallway and demanded who his informant was. WHO told him I'd brought my equipment back late? WHO told him I'd done these things? Instead of an answer, he looks at me and simply says that he'll never be giving me a recommendation so I shouldn't even bother asking.

It is at this point that I finally notice through my bleeding rage that there are actually more students standing around in the hallway watching us then were originally observing the fight in the computer lab. in fact, a few kids in the labs have opened the door and are standing, watching, listening. Other kids in other classrooms are waiting for what's next. Students and teachers have stopped their conversations and lectures to peer into the hallway, wanting to catch the final moments before the pending apocalypse. They're thinking this is better than pay-per-view. They're thinking they've got front row seats, free tickets. They think, "I know Frederic made a kung-fu film called "Tiger Street" but does he know kung-fu himself? Will he beat John within an inch of his life with his black belt skill set?" Tiger Street is Frederic's pride and joy. It is his claim to fame - a feature length kung fu movie that plays late nights on Showtime.

The people watching, the crowds, the audience, the film lovers. They want a show. They want the act three climax and I feel as though it would just be a shame to let them down. Frederic and I stand in the long hallway facing one another, only about ten feet apart, all eyes on us. There is near silence and then, like a bowling ball crashing into a glass wall, I state, "Don't worry Frederic. I would never ask the guy that made Tiger Street for a recommendation". Not another word is said. Not one syllable, grunt or heavy sigh. He stares at me in silence and, to this day, I don't believe that I actually managed to stun him or shock him into a mute phase. I believe what happened is that my statement triggered his psychotic button and he knew that if he started to speak he would start to scream and then he would start to pummel and murder me.

A few weeks before I moved out of the dorms a friend of mine got in touch with me and said that he'd spoken to Frederic who had openly admitted that he was wrong about me and all the equipment. It was all just a big misunderstanding on his part. Oops. I saw him at the school a few times after that but he never spoke a word to me, apology or otherwise. Regardless of Frederic's view of me, I still owed the school a small trove of money and I'm sure they wanted it no matter what my financial situation was, so I headed back out into the market to find a job. Collin McKennan, another friend of mine (I have so many) that happens to look like the bass player from Blink-182, was working at UPS at the time and let me know that they were hiring, had great advancement opportunities, paid really well and you basically just worked out all day.

I went down to their Aurora center, applied and then came back for the initial interview, along with roughly twenty other people. Two weeks later I had outlasted nineteen of the possible occupants by begging and pleading with the hiring staff. I explained to them that I NEEDED this job. I told them that I was moving to California in roughly three months and (again) had saved no money. This was my only option and I promised to be a good worker, not because I wanted to be but because I NEEDED to be. Bosses enjoy desperation. They like having you trapped in their little web.

Out of sympathy, I'm sure, they ended up hiring me and paying me for one week of training where I sat and watched safety videos that taught me how to construct a proper box wall. I figured this would be a synch since I could get to level nine on Tetris with no problem and if I was really paying attention could even hit twelve. After the first day of being in the actual factory, I had somehow managed to send two entire trucks off packed with the wrong materials and had my supervisor tell me that my box wall was the worst one he'd ever seen in his entire UPS career. Also, to say that this was a workout was a bit of an understatement. This was slave labor. There may as well have been broad shouldered white men walking around with staffs and whips, beating the poor and lowly Egyptian workers into submission, making sure we continued to build our walls of cardboard rather that stone. After eight hours of picking up forty pound boxes, i thought I was going to die. My bones ached, my feet stung and my brain had gone numb. I crawled into my car and balanced precariously on the verge of tears for a few minutes before firing up my jalopy and coasting over to Jade's place on the other side of town. What had I gotten myself into? Maybe it wasn't so bad. Maybe I just needed to warm up to this new lifestyle. Tomorrow, after all, was a brand new day..........

.......the next morning I called in and quit. I was hoping to get the answering machine, hoping to be able to just leave a very polite, quick, painless, non-confrontational message when the guy that had gone to bat for me, had originally helped me lock down the job, picked up. I explained that I wouldn't be coming in again, ever again, forever. I let him know, politely, that the job just wasn't really my cup of tea. I let him know that "it's not you, it's me". For some reason he still asked me to come back. I tried to tell him that I was the opposite of an asset to their company. I told him I'd sent things destined for Georgia to Vermont. I told him that birthday cards addressed to Cindy in Montana were going to end up at a Monty's house in Utah. I said I was bad with numbers and even worse with stacking boxes. I told him about my supervisor and still he asked me to return. I didn't deserve this punishment. I wanted to be yelled at, scolded, hated. I wanted to be told that I'd put everyone in a hard spot. I wanted to feel bad for what I was doing and this guy was making me feel HORRIBLE. He was killing me with kindness and I was dying one breath at a time. Eventually I had to just put my foot down and say, "Emery, listen to me. I am NOT coming back. I do not like it there. I will find something else to do. I have to go to class" and he sadly complied and I hung up my phone and proceeded to get drunk with my friends.

Another two weeks pass before a friend of mine contacts me, telling me he's managing a restaurant. He tells me he's looking for help from five in the morning until noon. He's looking for some busboys / dishwashers to come down to the kitchen to give the latino ladies that pretty much made up the staff, a little hand. I said sure, absolutely, yes, yes, yes. My bank account was operating on a downhill slope and my student loans were getting ready to come up in just a few months. On top of that, my big move to LA was sneaking up on me and I needed........well, a deposit, a new bed and, to be completely honest, a few tanks of gas to make it over the mountains. I began work right away.

The women whom I was employed with spoke nearly zero English and didn't seem to be interested in learning any so I took to picking up Spanish. Among the words I learned were, "good", "bad" and "sick" which did nothing when trying to ask "where did you hide the bread?" or "how do I properly drain the fryer so I don't burn my hands beyond recognition?" They would smile, no matter what you asked, and say, "Bien, bien".

"How are you today?" "Bien, bien"". "Oh, that's good that you're doing good. How was your ride to work?" "Bien, bien". "Fantastic. I ride a motorcycle. I think it's one of the best ways to get around the city and a GREAT way to start the day". "Bien, bien". "I hate my job. I hate cleaning up after people. The smell of this food nauseates me. I'm thinking about going home after work and blowing my brains out all over the wall. Do you have any thoughts or advice regarding suicide?". "Bien, bien".

Five days a week I'd wake up at 3:30am, roll off the couch I was living on, toss on my dirty work clothes and migrate to the living room where I'd stare at a blank television and think about making an omelette until Collin got home. He was working nights over at UPS and so, being roommates, we'd only cross paths for about forty-five minutes every day. He'd come in the door looking dead beat and I'd be sitting on the couch in the dark looking like I just woke up. We'd each crack open a beer and watch an episode of "The Chapelle Show" before going our separate ways, trading places for the next few hours and it was like this that he and I existed for the next few months, like some 21st century, homosexual clones of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.

I worked at the kitchen job until a day and a half before I left, using my remaining time to pack up what little belongings I owned into my girlfriend's Lincoln Continental along with our dog. We set out of Denver with some CDs I had burned and showed up in LA about seventeen hours later at our new home, an apartment we were renting site unseen and that amounted to (literally) nothing more than a garage stall with a toilet in the corner. We didn't have a bed and our pillows were about six hours behind us in another car that was following (sort of) behind us. It was 3am and we laid down on the tile floor together, blanketless, sharing our only roll of toilet paper as our pillow and I stared at our barren ceiling wondering, hoping, that I was going to get this whole film career to work.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Underdog Beach

Jade and I own two dogs, a 90lb Rhodesian Ridgeback named Kaidance and a smaller, runty cocker spaniel named Clementine. The bigger dog is motivated by food like some child of the Congo while the cocker's emotions are controlled more by human touch and affection, like a sexually abused teenage girl. When we take them to the dog park or dog beach, Kaidance stands by our side, proud of her owners and too snobbish to associate herself with the other dogs, the mixed breeds, the mutts. Truthfully, I think she finds even the purebreds to be far inferior to her own breed. She slinks slowly through the park like a member of the K-9 KKK. White is right and down with brown, I'm sure is what her mantra would be had she been born in the south rather than the midwest.

Clementine is different, behaving more like a Care Bear Cousin while out in public. She pounces through fields and streams to spread her love to anyone that glances in her direction. She enjoys anyone that gives her the time of day and seems to be perfectly happy with trading Jade and I in for another couple at a moments notice.

We take the two of them to dog parks on occasion, a place where we can take them off their leashes and really just set them free, which, as I said before, usually means that Kaidance is laying idly by, watching the mudbloods co-exist in her domain while Clementine gets humped up and down the park. Since Los Angeles is bordered by an ocean from it's bottom most sector to it's most northern peak, it is strange that it only contains one singular dog beach and that you have to drive all the way past Malibu to get there. We'd never taken either of our dogs to the beach before but thought that maybe if we took them somewhere fun and wonderful, we too could experience the excitement of owning a dog that ran and played with you. A dog that would leap in slow motion into the oncoming waves with you, bouncing after the receding current. We could all laugh with the other dog owners and enjoy a little slice of Heaven.

We drive seventy minutes before arriving at the dog beach, which is surrounded by an obviously dog friendly community. Everywhere you look there are trim girls on rollerblades, scooting along with fit Italian greyhounds and gay men in tank tops toting Chihuahuas in purses. There are older women with great danes and young boys with golden retrievers. It is a perfect dogtopia, a place where humans and canines can come together in harmony. We pull over in the free public parking, snap on the dogs' collars and open our doors, all four of us smelling the fresh ocean breeze. This is nothing like Van Nuys. This is what California is suppose to smell like.

The dogs are excited. Kaidance stands at our side, trying to act superior to the moment but her front is lost while her tail wags. Clementine runs in a circle around me, tying herself to my legs with her own leash. I begin to untangle us and she barks once before squatting down to poop while staring over her shoulder at me. I say her name once, disdainfully, and then scoop up the tiny pile of turds and carry it along with us, swinging it next to me like a maggot's lunchbox.

We cross over the cement and onto the sand and there is a moment of pure magic, a moment where everything and anything is possible. Dogs run free while beautiful (and ugly) people bask in the sun. It doesn't matter who's dog belongs to whom. Today, here, everyone is everyone's keeper. All humans feed all dogs any treats. I watch a sporty looking black and white border collie run at top velocity across the beach, his sparkling blue eyes reflecting the ocean, pinned to the frisbee flying just feet above his head. He leaps, catches the orange frisbee in his mouth and crashes into an oncoming wave before emerging with his toy and, if it's possible, smiling. The owner, the kind of guy you'd find in Any Weight Room, USA, calls to him and the dog comes running. He scrubs the dogs head, takes the frisbee and the act starts all over again.

A terrier named Jack runs up to us and begins sniffing Kaidance's butt. Kaidnace growls and the little dog runs away. Clementine tugs on her leash, ready for action. All she sees are objects of affection, people she can sap love from like maple trees. The sand is hot and the dogs are lifting up their feet one at a time. We find an unoccupied spot and set down our red towels, which the dogs immediately jump on, cooling their steaming pads. Kaidance and I sit down at the same time, only I realize too late that Kaidance is not sitting down so much as just squatting to pee all over my towel.


I stand up, say her name with disgust and then laugh and look around. I don't want to be judged as "The Psycho" that came to the dog beach today and started screaming at his dog for pissing. Instead I pet her on the head, give her a treat and just look at our beach neighbors and say, "Oh, DOGS!" They laugh and I think I'm in. The couple to our left is an older man and woman. I never catch their name but they've got a bigger dog, a mix, maybe part lab, part heeler, it's hard to tell. It's definitely a dog and it's definitely friendly. It comes over and welcomes us and Kaidance just stares at it, wishing she had a cross to burn in front of it's owners towels. The dog turns and runs off and Jade and I decide it's time. We're going to unleash our pets and watch them run free. We can't WAIT to see them leaping through the air, drool dangling from their mouths like shoestrings, their legs pumping through the sand like desert turbines. Jade tells me to wait. She says, "not yet" and pulls her camera from her bag. She unsnaps Clementines leash and holds her by the collar. I do the same to Kaidance. "Are you ready?" she asks. I nod. "On" my grip loosens, "two"...................I'm thinking about shouting yee-haw when I let her go to help take her to "the next level"........"THREE!!!". We both let go simultaneously and Jade begins rapid snapping pictures of the two dogs sitting in the sand right in front of us, looking slowly from side to side. As far as anti-climactic went, this really took the fish taco.

We try coaxing them away, pretending to throw invisible toys and then rocks and then we just start pushing them but the harder we shove the deeper into the sand they seem to dig their toes. Jade and I stand up and begin walking backwards towards the water, curling our fingers towards them, "C'mon.....c'mon......Kaidance........Cleeeeeeementine.......c'mon........" They stand on our singular towel. Kaidance watches the power bar the lady next to us is munching on and Clementine watches a nearby family, wishing she were part of it. It was so out of her character to be so anti-social. Maybe it was the new surrounding. Maybe this was a new technique she was perfecting, trying to imitate and therefore overtake Kaidance's alpha dogness. I wasn't sure.

I quickly tire of cooing them and march back towards the pair of imitation humans. I hook my finger through Kaidance's collar and begin dragging her towards the vast and hungry ocean. We get halfway there and she seems to be trotting just fine so I let go and she turns around and runs as fast as she can back to the blanket. She lays down, looks at me, then turns her head in the other direction and pretends to be asleep. Clementine lies down next to her and I turn to Jade and shrug. I'm standing in knee deep water and wondering why I'm the only one. Why isn't anyone else in here? I'm wondering if the water is filled with clumps of dog hair, canine feces and bitch piss. I look down and can sort of make out my toes through the muck so figure I'm okay as long as I don't drink any of it. Jade is standing next to me and when I look over, she's staring at her toes as well and I wonder if she's thinking the same thing.

Behind me I hear a sudden and intense scuffle break out. Dog barks, growls, those feral animalistic screams that tell you things just got ugly. The lolly-gagging around and horse play has just taken a nasty turn and if nobody steps in, someone is going to be walking away with a bad limp and a little less blood. I turn and see two dogs in a tangle of bared teeth and raised fur. They leap at one another and roll over and over in the sand, snapping at each other's necks, stomachs, paws, anything they can sink their, uh-hem, canines into.

Mr. Weight Room comes tearing over, screaming out his frisbee dogs name. He's shouting over the dog yowls, hollering for the dogs to stop, screaming for them to "knock it off" but the dogs are no longer docile, domestic creatures. Today, now, this instant, they have transformed under the glare of the sun like werewolves at the full moon. The nice woman that was sitting next to us, the older one with the lab / heeler is stumbling blindly across the hot sand, her flip-flops falling off her feet after a few steps, her hat trying to blow off her head, her skirt billowing around her waist. She stops next to the bar room brawl and begins saying, "Stop! Stop! No! No!".

The two humans shout at their dogs. The dogs shout at each other. Eventually Mr. Weight Room takes the risk and sticks his hand into the spinning blades of ivory white teeth, manages to grab his frisbee dog by the collar and yanks them apart. He doesn't bother scolding his dog but rather screams at it, jerks it by the collar and gives it a soft boot back towards his blanket. At this point I fully assumed he would realize that his emotions had gotten the better of him and was about to act embarrassed, act ashamed, much the way I had when beginning to scold Kaidance for peeing on my blanket. But he doesn't. Instead, this man surprises all of us. When a dog fight breaks out at a dog park / beach, it's much the same equation as kids in the schoolyard. No one but the children's parents will step in. The rest of the kids just stand and watch. Stand and stare. And now, at the dog beach, at least twenty of us, the nearest occupants, stood watching this man, woman and their respective animals. The man, much like his dog, turned on a moments notice and begins screaming at the woman. He tells her to "Watch your F-ing dog, lady!" only instead of the letter F he says the whole four letter word. I'm not offended by this word and can even sometimes be found sitting in corners mumbling it to myself, but really, there's a time and a place. Jade and I stand in the knee deep piss water, watching. The pregnant woman and her young husband watch. Children wait to see what his next move will be. The woman with the lab / heeler apologizes, grabs her dog by the collar and begins dragging him away. Mr. Weight Room shouts after her, tells her she's an "F-ing idiot and needs to get her dog under control if she's going to bring him to the dog beach". She apologizes again and he tells her to "stop apologizing and stop being an F-ing dip-S". At this point, the woman releases her dog, who runs back to it's blanket and the woman doubles back to the man, telling him to stop being such a "J-off" and that it was his dog's fault to begin with. She turns to walk away and he tells her that she's a "big, dumb, C" (C is another name for a woman's genitals) and she turns around AGAIN and calls him a bastard. He's says, "EF YOU!" and she says, "EF YOOOOOOU!" and storms off.

Had I seen this in a movie or on television I never would have believed it. Certainly what happened was upsetting but this WAS a dog beach and when you bring your dog to a dog beach, even if your dog isn't normally prone to violence, you had to be willing to accept the risk of things like this happening. It was just part of the process. I really felt like the woman was a nice person and wasn't so much reacting in anger to the situation of the dogs but was rather reacting defensively to the man's constant, repetitive and unprovoked attack on her.

Mr. Weight Room watches her walk away, all the way back to her towel, where her husband meets her and asks, "what happened". Once Weight Room was certain she wasn't coming back, he turns to meander back to his dog. Always the victim. As he starts to walk away, however, I suddenly found myself staring in his direction, upset with what I'd just witnessed. "HEY!" I called, before I could give myself time to reconsider what I was doing. He keeps walking, "HEY!" He turns around and begins looking from face to face. Was someone talking to him? Again, before I can think, I shout, "What you just did was completely inappropriate." He pulls off his glasses and clutches them in his right hand and cocks his head to the left, definitely staring at me now, the geekiest looking kid on the beach. I repeat, a little louder and with a little more articulation, "WHAT YOU JUST DID..........WAS INAPPROPRIATE".

My heart is pounding inside my chest and my stomach is quivering. I feel a little light headed and my knees start to feel weak. He's about seven yards away and if he chooses to power walk over to me and smash my face with what is almost certainly ring studded knuckles, I doubt there is anything I could do. Certainly, once it started happening, it would just be a bunch of kids on the playground, watching the bully beat up the nerd. They would watch him sink his hairy fist into my mouth and I would drop into the ocean like a rock.

Rather than beginning his death march to me though, he instead tries to defend his position, stating, "Her dog started it" and, while I didn't actually see the beginning of the fight, I say, "Yeah, I saw how it started and I don't care. You handled that situation poorly. You are an ADULT and you should act like one". I was articulate and confident and wasn't even wearing my lucky speedo. He looks at me and I'm wondering what else he's going to say. He's gearing up for something, you can see it in his eyes, but before he can speak, the pregnant chick says, "Yeah" and then her boyfriend chimes in, "Yeah, that's true". Behind me, Jade says, "Yeah - inappropriate". Pretty soon, all the schoolyard kids watching the mounting chaos are volunteering their opinions, stepping up. Everyone is nodding and mumbling, "inappropriate".

Mr. Weight Room doesn't say anything else. He bends down and picks up his dog's frisbee from the sand, turns and marches off towards his blanket, towards his piece of the property. I look back towards my dogs and they're both watching me and I hope they understood what just happened and were maybe proud of me. Jade and I walk out of the filthy water and meander back towards our blankets and sit down. I reach into Jade's purse and grab a luke warm water, my mouth suddenly very dry.

I look out across the beach of people and happy animals and watch as Mr. Weight Room leashes up his dog and makes his way back to the parking lot.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Most Holy Turkey Sandwich

I was raised in the Catholic church and as such, was baptized as a baby, molested as a teenager and left the church as an adult (actually, only two of those three things are true). As a parent in the church, it is common practice to begin your child in a program called CCD about the same time they're old enough to begin first grade.

Every Wednesday night, all the young up and coming Catholics would be dropped off by our mothers and fathers outside of the church and we would gather in the auditorium of the Christian school which also doubled as one of the two Catholic churches in town, before our night classes would begin. It is here we would exchange stories regarding things we had stolen, pornographic magazines we had seen and fights we had gotten into that week. When it was time to go to our classrooms, we would all line up according to grade and shuffle slowly through the hallways, like Jesus with his cross.

Inside the classrooms they taught us how, no matter what, we would never be able to understand the holy trinity. They taught us Bible stories and showed us, what amounted to, the behind the scenes from "The Passion of the Christ". They explain to you the magic of communion and how the bread you eat is actually human flesh - legitimate human flesh. They tell you it is called transubstantiation and although the Bible strictly FORBIDS cannibalism, calling it an abomination, it was, apparently, okay to partake in the abomination as long as you were doing it with Jesus. In fact, they teach you all of the in and outs of being a Catholic except what CCD actually stands for.

At some point they (they being the parents and teachers) decided it would be just a fine idea to put on a PLAY! After all, children LOVE plays! They love to be in them, they love to watch them! Children just LOVE plays. "What should our play be about?" they asked one another. Jonah and the whale? How about Joseph and the technicolor dream coat? Noah's ark? The story of Moses? Jesus feeding 10,000? No, no and double no. "Let's do that great scene where Jesus is dragged through the streets and tortured and MURDERED!" "Yes!" they all cried. "Sounds fantastic!" others shouted. And thus our damnation was sealed.

Three weeks later, after several practices, I found myself standing in front of a packed house, dressed as a Roman guard. I had on a plastic chest plate that gave me wonderful 300-style abs and a short skirt that made me look like some sort of deranged transvestite. Dangling in my right hand was a little plastic sword I was instructed to use to, "poke Jesus with" while in my left hand I carried a toy whip. There were four of us being humiliated at once while my friend Josh played out the part of Jesus, wearing a white robe and carrying a giant cross on his shoulder. We poked him and prodded him, as instructed, UP one aisle and DOWN another aisle and back UP another aisle so everyone could get an eyeful of their stupid children playing stupid dress-up beating up the Savior of the world. Inside a church, what we were doing was okay. Outside a church and in your private basement, what we were doing was called child abuse.

Towards the end of the play, the four of us drug Josh / Jesus up onto the alter, shoved a rubber crown of thorns down over his crew cut, latched the cross into the little stand they'd made and then tied him to the arms of it. The director had instructed us on how to properly snap the cross into place. He had warned us that if it was done improperly, there was a great possibility that the cross could tip over and fake Jesus would be smashed on the floor in front of the masses. To me, it seemed a great risk to leave this up to a couple of seven year olds. We tried our best and lifted him up into the air, displaying him for everyone to see. I hoped for Josh's sake that he didn't get a boner.

Dim the lights, play some piano music, some people cry but most people are just happy it's over. We lower Josh and I get out of my stupid costume, absolutely certain that I will never be in another play or Catholic church the rest of my life.

There are a few big milestones in a young Catholic boys life; his first kiss, his first pube and his first Communion and all three of these things happen at about the same time - fifth grade. On the Wednesday night that my first communion was scheduled to take place, I arrived to the gymnasium wearing my nicest and most wrinkled white button up, a clip on bow-tie and, in true Brookbank family class, stone washed blue jeans and sneakers. While the rest of my classmates looked as though they were about to partake in something serious and intimate with their crisp shirts and ties, I simply looked like a complete mess. Half schoolboy, half pervert, completely out of place. The teachers are looking at me, probably wondering why I would bother putting on something as tacky as a bow-tie and then not even bother with the pleated khakis at the very least. Did I not own a pair of shoes nicer than mud caked British Knights? This was a holy tradition. Would I be wearing flip-flops and a top hat to my wedding?

Before ushering us down the halls and into the sanctuary, they explained the very last piece of information to us - the final piece of the puzzle. They tell us that there are two ways to take the holy eucharist and it didn't matter which we chose, but it would be considered in bad taste to steal it back to our pew and try to nibble on it the rest of the way through mass. We were allowed to either cup our hands and let the priest hand the wafer to us like a completely normal person or we were allowed to just stand there, arms hung limply at our sides, sticking out our tongues looking like some drugged up, slack faced, sex addict and let him place Jesus into our mouths. I never understood how anyone could be comfortable, as a child or as an adult, with letting a grown man feed you in public like some invalid.

I stood in line and tried peaking down the aisle of innocent meat lined up in front of the priest feeding us, attempting to see what everyone was doing. Were most people taking the bread or were they being fed like kids (baby goats) in a petting zoo? I couldn't tell. As I took step after step towards the front of the aisle, towards my turn, I imagined everyone watching me, staring at me, wondering how I would respond. Was the entire congregation judging us based on our response? What if I suddenly got a boner? Why was I dressed like this? Of course everyone was looking at me! I looked as though I had just walked out of the RV that my family most certainly must have been living in. People probably thought my parents couldn't come to my first communion because they were too busy inbreeding.

My nerves are shot, I'm at the front of the line, the kid next to me opens his maw and lets his tiny pink tongue dangle from his mouth like a landing platform for the U.S. Jesus. The priest places the bread on his tongue with steady, trained hands and then looks at me. I just hold out my hands, take the thing and shove it in my mouth, mumbling, "Amen".

Tastes like stale bread to me.

Years later I'm in a Baptist church with my dad and my wife, neither of whom have had the unsatisfactory experience of CCD. Inside the Catholic church, they do communion every single day no matter what. Outside of the Catholic church, it's done roughly once a month. The pastor informs us all that today is the day we will be having communion and that we can all take it no matter what as long as we love Jesus and have him in our hearts. My wife grips my hand because she doesn't know what communion is or what she should do. I tell her to relax.

We stand up and get in line behind my dad. Jade is nervous, she leans forward and tells me she thinks everyone is looking at her. She tells me she doesn't know what to do. She's trying to peak around me and see the front of the line. What is everyone else doing?

When I make it to the front, the set-up is a little different than what I'm used to. Instead of individual wafers, there is just a giant chunk of bread that you're supposed to rip a small piece from. It was sort of disgusting that everyone was picking it up and touching it, especially since only about 10% of people wash their hands after they use the restrooms (and that includes numero deuce) but it was also very communal and I think that made it okay. I watch my dad pick up the loaf and tear off the tiniest bit, about the size of his thumbnail. Next, I pick it up and do the same before following him back to his seat. I sit down and hold it in my hands and begin to pray. Once everyone has their piece and we're all back in our seats, the pastor will say a quick prayer about thanks and sacrifice and we'll all take our bread (not Jesus this time but rather just a symbol, just regular old bread) in thanks together, as a body, or, as I like to think of it, as a club.

In my hands I cup the tiny piece of bread and in my brain I'm thinking, "Thank you for dying on the cross for me, Lord. Thank you for helping me through my daily life and guiding me through all of my mundane problems. Thank you for my job and, even though I sometimes hate it, thank you for the health that I have and that I am ABLE to do the job that I hate. Thank you for -" there's a tap on my shoulder. I open my eyes and look to my left. It's Jade.

"What am I supposed to do with this?" she asks. I look down into her hand where she holds enough bread to make a turkey sandwich. It literally looks like she just picked up the loaf and tore it in half. "Well," I say, "you're supposed to eat about this much". I open my hand, showing her the penny sized piece. "I don't know what you're planning on doing with all that. Maybe you should take your canteen up there and fill it up with wine to wash it all down".

Saturday, August 15, 2009


When I moved to Denver for college, the dorms I would soon be occupying asked me if I had a roommate preference. Since I knew no one, save for my girlfriend, who lived on the other side of town, I said no. I figured I would leave my chances to fate. I was starting a new life and well, really I had no choice.

I showed up on my first day and the front desk sent me up to the second floor, room 211. I entered and the first thing I noticed, besides the room looking next to nothing like the brochure, was that there was no refrigerator, as advertised. I called the front desk like I'd just moved to The Hamptons and asked where it was at. They let me know that only certain rooms got refrigerators and it was just sort of random, like my roommate. I hang up and can sort of feel how this place is going to go. I immediately begin to feel an animosity towards this "front desk" and begin to recognize them as "the man", as the enemy.

The walls are white and barren and I start to hang things up. I stick a nail in the wall and my dad practically knocks the stapler I'm using as a hammer from my hands. "WHAT ARE YOU DOOOOING??" he shouts, "YOU'RE NOT GONNA GET YOUR $200 DEPOSIT BACK IF YOU MAKE A HOLE!!!" I take a slow look around the dead white room with it's one prison style window and try to imagine living here for two years with nothing to look at. I look at the place where my refrigerator should be. I think about the "Front Desk", which has now earned itself the tyrannical capital letters. I look at my dad, sweat beading out on his bald forehead. Had I lost my mind?, he must have been thinking. I take the stapler and knock the nail into the wall and hang up a picture of Jade. My dad shakes his head and sits down. DId I have no idea what I was doing? The repercussions this would mean?

My parents leave the next day and, that night, I lie in my dorm room, alone, listening to people walking around in the halls. I wonder if I will get to know them and if they already know one another. I feel like a complete stranger in a strange land. I shut my eyes and wonder when I'll meet my roommate. It was the last day of the first part of my life.

When I awoke the next morning I met Kevin, my roommate. He has short black hair, a tight frame and wild eyes that were shielded by silver glasses. The dorms were set up in such a way that your roommate was really more of your toilet mate than anything. We each had our own 8x8 ft room which was connected by a joint bathroom. I met Kevin in the bathroom and shook his hand. He mumbled something about Star Wars and never made eye contact. He invited me into his room and I saw that the little bastard had a refrigerator. Rather than seeing this as an asset, I immediately identified him as the enemy. His room was covered in pictures of video game posters and famous actors that he really liked. He mumbles something and I just say, "right, right, well, cool" and then get out as soon as I can. For some reason it feels like Buffalo Bill's dorm room.

I would later discover that Kevin had an identical twin brother named Doug that lived down the hall. Doug liked to mumble and not look you in the eyes as well. If Kevin was Buffalo Bill, then Doug was definitely Hannibal Lecter. I imagined myself waking up one night and the two of them hovering over my bed, gazing down at me, but not making eye contact. In my dreams they had put down each other as preferential roommates but had not gotten it. In my dreams they would skin me alive and Doug would suddenly disappear from the premises, taking up residence in my skin and the two of them could live happily ever after for the next two years.

Late at night I'd lie in bed and I'd listen to them through the walls. They seemed to be speaking their own language, a tongue I would later begin to refer to as Polton, which was the planet I assumed them to be from. I fell asleep as they watched, rewatched and rewatched the new Pirates of the Caribbean trailer on full blast. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. They laughed at the same parts. They made the same jokes. Their commentary played on loop, just like Boot Strap Bill's line. I wondered if they were each sitting in the dark, dressed up as their favorite pirate and, furthermore, who each of them would've chosen.

I wake up. It's not the next morning, but just another morning and the bathroom door is locked. I hear someone speaking Polton and I sit down on the floor to listen. Someone is unraveling toilet paper, but rather than just a little piece to fold and wipe, I hear a whoosh-whoosh-whoosh like they're ripping it out of the dispenser by the yard just as fast as they can. Next I hear a scrubbing noise like TP on skin and I'm wondering if he wipes like he's cleaning the kitchen counter. More Polton speak. It's closer now, just on the other side of the door. The shower turns on and I hear him get undressed and step inside. To this day I can't tell you what was truly happening behind that door next. I hear Polton 1 and then I hear Polton 2. I hear a conversation happening in the shower. I can't tell you if one was sitting on the toilet and talking to his brother while he showered. I can't tell you if it was just Kevin Polton imitating two voices, having a back and forth by himself or if they were actually showering together. I never asked and they never told.

One day I found myself sitting in my friend Steve's room. Steve had no fridge and was therefore considered a trustworthy friend to me. He liked to dig through the ashtrays outside for refries and could sometimes be found passed out from a nightlong binge of drinking Scope, but I found these traits more colorful than detestable. I sat on his popposon chair and gazed out the window, across the courtyard to all the opposing dorm windows and wondered what was happening in each of them. I decided to just check it out.

Steve had a digital camera he had acquired from somewhere or the other and, while I never saw him use it, I found that it had quite an impressive zoom lens that doubled quite nicely as a telescope. I gazed through the viewfinder and saw a kid feeding a squirrel. I saw a girl watching TV. I saw a guy sitting on his bed doing his homework. My room was empty and next door, Kevin was wielding a giant plastic sabre, leaping back and forth in his room, having a sword fight with an invisible opponent, all alone. I wondered if he was imitating Jack Sparrow or Luke Skywalker. Steve takes the camera from me, takes a look, laughs, pulls a three quarter smoked cigarette out of his cargo pocket and lights it up for the two drags that it's worth.

Summer came and Kevin and Doug left. In fact, 80% of the dorms vacated and the few out-of-staters that lived there were the only ones left behind to fend for themselves. As soon as ol' Buffalo Bill was gone I snuck into his room and stole his refrigerator. Rob the rich to feed the poor. It was nice for a while, being alone, but it got to be, understandably, a bit lonely. When the kids all came back, we all got new roommates and I was assigned to a black guy named Reggie, who had a lisp. Not the kind of lisp that was caused by a speech impediment but the kind of lisp that was caused by shaking your wrist around limply, being attracted to boys and just being pretty much all around gay. He seemed enjoyable enough and was always found with a shining white smile on his face. One Saturday afternoon, while I sat in my room, on my bed, playing Tetris, I heard a quick and polite knock on my bathroom door. "Come in" I gayly shouted. In walks Reggie, wearing a red Echo shirt, expensive name brand pants and carrying a Big Gulp filled with what smells like pure rum mixed with a capful of soda. He asks if he can play Tetris with me and I tell him sure, to have a seat. He sits down next to me and I wonder if this gay, drunk black man wants to have sex with me. I scoot a few inches away from him and hand him a controller. I begin asking him where he's from, if he has any siblings, does he have a job? He tells me, with a smile, that his home life was pretty rough and once his sister made him really mad and he stabbed her in the shoulder with a kitchen knife. I beat him at Tetris and he says, "Dang it!". I become afraid and begin looking around my room for anything I can use to protect myself with or, even worse, anything that could be used to harm me. The stapler that I use as a hammer is in my drawer. I wonder if I can grab it before he tries to choke me with the Nintendo cable. He asks if I want to play again and I hesitantly agree. I try to let him win but he's just too bad. Even trying to lose I still win. He says, "GOSH DARNIT!" and slams the rest of his drink. I wonder if instead of hurting me physically he's just thinking about out and out raping me. Would he at least allow me to run next door and ask my friend for a condom? He asks if I want to play again. I yawn and stretch and tell him that I really need to be getting to class. Before he can respond I click off the Nintendo and begin rapping up the controllers. "Cool", he says and disappears into the bathroom.

Summer comes and everyone disappears again. I enjoy the silence for a bit and decide to read a few books before starting the longing process for my friends like young lovers. I decide that the fates can eat it and figure this time I'll put in for a roommate. I choose a kid named Brett who has sideburns the size and shape of California. When he came back from Colorado Springs the following semester, he brought his hamster, Marla, with him and together the three os us lived above the room where some kid had hung himself a year before I moved in. I needed to make some extra money and so, beings that I went to film school, I ended up purchasing mini dv tapes off of ebay in bulk and selling them at the school for twice the cost I purchased them at. This technique afforded me extra beer money for the weekend and Brett quickly became envious, deciding he too would taste the sweetness of being an entrepreneur. He too wanted the freedom to be his own boss, to set his own schedule, to do what he wanted.

His first step was to gather his product. He went to the pet store and purchased another hamster, a male named Rerun and then set to work breeding the newly introduced couple. A few months later Marla was missing and the cage was filled with little pink creatures. Brett searched our dorms from top to bottom but never found her, never even found a trace of her. No poop, no hamster food scraps, no hair, nothing. I explained to him that, sometimes, in business, there are losses. Setbacks.

In true professional form, he pushed forward with phase 2 - marketing.

He began stapling posters up at the film school, "HAMSTERS FOR SALE". When this didn't catch on, we tried becoming partners. "BUY 2 MINI-DV TAPES, GET A FREE HAMSTER!" If people weren't going to buy them, we were just going to give them away. This too was a complete failure as hamsters weren't on the hot to have list that year. The hamsters were multiplying at an alarming rate and we weren't able to move the product. They were eating all the money that was coming in from his parents and it was becoming harder and harder to get booze on the weekend. Eventually, he made his first big sale. A girl down the hall from him asked if she could buy two of them - a guy and a girl. She thought she'd try selling them as well. Apparently we had quite a few FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) members running around our place.

Brett escorts the young woman into his room and begins his spiel like some used car salesman. "This one's great, he'll just sit in your lap and smile at you. OH! This little girl is fantastic! Lots of energy and is just so cute while she runs on that little wheel - you buy em both and I'll toss in the wheel for free - heck, I'll even give ya some pellets. They love pellets. You'll figure it out - don't worry - you look nervous. New parents are always nervous. You'll be fine". He digs his hand into the cage to find the two chosen ones and stumbles upon a stiff object under some hamster chips. He clears them away and discovers Marla, her glassy eyes staring out at nothing, her cheeks filled with those delicious pellets.

We assume that Marla had died giving birth or had just finally kicked the bucket of old age. Truthfully we had no idea. We had no way of knowing. We were just a couple of Fortune 500s up and comers, not veterinarians. The story we told, however, was a bit different. We explained to people who asked about Marla that she had died giving birth and the infant hamsters had devoured her from the inside out, eating their way through her uterus and abdomen. When we found them, Marla was broken in two, a look of terror spread across her blood stained face. We tell everyone that's not a potential customer that the baby hamsters all bite.

The year passes and Brett has only sold two hamsters. He's going back home and can't take them all with him. The girl down the hall has bred a horde and nobodies buying. In her desperation she had even hit the street but with no luck. Brett decided that this is not what he expected and the business isn't earning the profit he thought it would. It's going belly-up and he decides to bail. One night, after most of the dorms had fallen asleep and when no one but the unmonitored security cameras were watching, he snuck the cage down the hall with the girl and they took each hamster out, one by one and fed them through a small hole in the wall. Roughly sixteen hamsters all together, one at a time, being fed into this black gap. They each disappeared down the narrow corridor, following each other's scent. Brett and the girl dumped in all the food they had behind the little fuzzy army to get them started on their new life as feral animals. The hamsters disappeared for good and none of us ever saw them again, but sometimes, late at night, you could hear a light scurrying within the walls.