Wednesday, March 30, 2011


            I am thirty-two years old as I write this. I’ve lived in New Jersey, Florida, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. I have driven across the country four times and traveled the East Coast from head to toe six times. I’ve spent significant amounts of time in New York City, Boston, San Diego, and Las Vegas. I’ve visited Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, London, Florence, and Rome. I’ve read more pages of history, from the cradle of civilization to the current crisis in Libya, than I can possibly count. And while I am far from an expert, I consider myself educated about genetic and evolutionary science. After all that, I have glommed onto one unassailable observation that I have yet to see proven beyond a reasonable doubt: people are stupid. But the following true story stands with a turd-like shine as an example of just how stupid we as a species can be.
            Years ago, when I still worked in film production, I was hired as a production assistant on a commercial to be shot in Center City, Philadelphia. On the day – as they say in “The Industry” – shooting was rolling along smoothly as can be expected in any barely controlled state of bedlam. I can’t remember precisely what time of the day it was, how many shots we had in the can, or what I was doing at the time; but at some point the Assistant Director approached the other PA’s and me. He calmly and respectfully – a rarity amongst AD’s – said that one of us needed to run to the convenience store down the street and buy some batteries. Being that it was a perfect opportunity for me to buy more cigarettes, I volunteered.
            I walked into the store, quickly found the batteries, and brought them to the counter. Standing behind said counter was a young dunderhead of indeterminate Eurasian origin. His unevenly trimmed five o’ clock shadow smartly matched his wrinkled, oversized powder-blue shirt. Spittle threatened to seep over his lazily hanging lower lip, and his brown bovine eyes sparkled with witless aplomb.
            I greeted the mouth-breather with a casual but pleasant, “Hi. How ya doin’?”
            He returned my greeting with a brief glaring clown-smile of teeth and oversized gums. The disconcerting grill of civility appeared suddenly, magically replacing the slack-jawed flytrap of a look for less than half of a second, then disappeared just as suddenly; as if he had accidentally brushed a switch to his facial muscles, noticed his mistake, then quickly toggled it back to its default setting.
            He scanned the batteries I had presented to him and deposited them into a bag. I then said, “And can I have a pack of Marlboro Lights?”
            At this the poor dumb bastard froze like a deer in the headlights of an alien mothership. His eyes locked onto the register, then shot up at me. “Wait – what?” he asked.
            “A pack of Marlboro Lights please.”
            The rube’s troubled eyes narrowed as his lower lip edged closer to the ground. He spun his head toward the wall of cigarettes behind him, then back to the register, then back to the cigarettes. I was watching a man experience the defining moment of his life, the moment that would secure his legacy and set the stage for the rest of his existence. This was the Twelfth Peril of Hercules. This was Einstein’s arrival at General Relativity. I would have been entranced had I not been thoroughly confused. What could possibly be the stumbling block in this equation? I thought.
            I took pity on the tragic simpleton, pointed to the Marlboro Lights behind him, and patiently explained, “The gold and white ones right there in the middle.”
            I don’t know what prompted his synapses to finally turn over, but after looking at me, then at the cigarettes, then the register; some electrical wave of wisdom invaded his cerebral cortex. The fear in his face was quickly, almost violently, dispelled by sudden epiphanous comprehension. His eyes widened and the corners of his mouth turned upward gleefully. He had figured it out.
            He looked me in the eye and said, “Oh! You want to buy them!”
            That, my friends, is STOOPID. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


       All she had wanted was to make Mom and Dad happy. It had been her passion. They had heard her sing Karaoke and deemed her talent formidable enough. They had insisted that she be a star – that she deserved it. If that will make them happy, she had thought. She had worried for her parents. They had contracted a team of harmelodic Sisyphi to mold the girl, to craft her sound, with money they did not possess – a lot of money, their dutiful daughter thought, for a housepainter and substitute teacher. Her parents had not prepared her for the embarrassment, the pandemical scorn. She had not prepared herself for the unimaginable. I did what they wanted, she wondered. I only wanted to make them happy. What did इ do so wrong?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


            It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. All four hundred and twenty-six residents of Grover’s Valley were abuzz with anticipation. “‘Bout the most excitin’ to-do o’ the year ‘round these here parts,” Mr. Henderson the barber would repeat ad nauseum. “How robust and colorful those boys and girls there are,” the good Reverend Tinsley’s wife would editorialize with a matronly nod.
            Everyone was atwitter over the arrival of the circus. From Mr. Kearney, ensconced in his great log Xanadu atop Beardsley Hill watching his shadow move across the town, to Old Man Owens, fishing through the trash cans of the townfolks’ homes and Matterly’s Pharmacy for the most meager scrap of edible detritus, everyone was excited.
            Everyone but Roy Treadmore.
            Roy remained fixated on the same clear, star-peppered sky he obsessed over every night. He found it remarkable that the people of Grover’s Valley so easily ignored an indomitable and omnipresent source of wonder and awe. They had only to tilt their heads and feast their eyes on something beyond their comprehension. The sky above answered all their questions and posed some even their most formidable minds had yet to conjure. Each gleaming gaseous globe was a sphinx and the space between held the answers. If man looked to the heavens and saw only blackness, Roy decided, he needed to merely learn the language.
            Roy had considered trying to teach the people of Grover’s Valley. He had come to the town years before and quickly grown to like the simple, forthright men, women, and children who called it home. Roy had just as quickly learned, however, that what his neighbors possessed in sincerity they lacked in introspection. These were a people, Roy had learned, who contented themselves without delving past skin-depth. Perhaps that was why they ignored the infinitely deep sky above them.
Perhaps that was the appeal of the circus. There were trapeze artists, lion tamers, tightrope walkers, clowns, midgets, bearded ladies, wolf boys, men who were fired from cannons, and women who ate indigestible objects. They were oddities who had indentured themselves as professional fools. Freaks who engaged in abnormal behavior because, for whatever reason, they lacked other, more dignified, options. Desperation had compelled them to use their unenviable talents to entertain strangers who would laugh and applaud and cheer, and return home.
Would the traveling circus retain its charm under the close scrutiny the good people of Grover’s Valley refused to bring to bear? Roy doubted it. If the good people of Grover’s Valley were suddenly taught the subtle, painful touch of empathy, the tragic menagerie that so thrilled and ensorcelled them would turn into a horrific house of mirrors. They would be forced to confront their distorted image. They would resent themselves. And they would resent Roy for teaching them.
Roy Treadmore cast his wistful eye to the bright, starry night above and yearned for the day when he would return home.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


             I am well aware of the fact that I am my own worst enemy. No one is perfect, but I doubt that many people can shoot themselves in the foot as completely or poetically as I can. Chief among my self-destructive tendencies is my temper. Don’t misunderstand me. I am far from a raging lunatic who flies off the handle at the slightest provocation. I do, however, have a short list of subjects that never cease to frustrate me to the point of distraction. And every once in a while those frustrations emerge in a concentrated density that forbids me from doing the intelligent thing. This was one of those times.
            A couple of years ago my boss asked me if I would like to go to a publishing convention in New York City. Being a writer who was willing to grasp at any pathetic straw of potential, I enthusiastically responded in the affirmative. It was then that my boss informed me that my attendance would be unpaid and I would be going on my day off.
            Those circumstances were far from ideal. Motherfucker, I thought to myself. But the experience could nevertheless prove to be advantageous or, at least, educational. In order to avoid the majority of the bridge-and-tunnel morning rush, I resolved to wake up early on the morning of the convention. Once there I would take in the scene and if, after an hour or so, it proved to be a fruitless waste of my time, I would simply leave and bomb around Manhattan for the day.
            Well, you know what they say about God and plans.
            On the morning of the convention I was awoken by the sound of my phone ringing. I answered it and I heard my father’s voice say, “Are you on your way yet?” I looked at the clock and saw that I had slept through my alarm for a good hour. After saying goodbye to my father and cursing some, I casually proceeded to shower and dress. There was no way I was going to avoid the morning rush, so what was the use of hurrying? Once in my car I quickly jumped onto the Jersey Turnpike and headed north to New York. It was fairly smooth sailing until just past Trenton. That was when I ran smack-dab into a veritable parking lot. God blushed at my choice of words. The steering wheel and armrest took some physical abuse as well.
            Now at this point my car, which I had bought cheap and used, was in the frustratingly irrational habit of running for a while and then, suddenly, dying. Completely. While in motion. Yes, Virginia, I had a narcoleptic car. And right there, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, it fell asleep. Luckily I was moseying along at eight miles-per-hour and was able to coast to a stop on the shoulder.
            I promptly called Triple-A and told them that I needed a jump. Why a jump was able to slap a band-aid on an issue unrelated to the battery is beyond me, but, nevertheless, historically it had. I sat in my car on the side of the road, counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, waiting for Triple-A to arrive, chain-smoking cigarettes in a petulant huff with a rumbling thunderhead hovering over my skull.
            After an hour and change the Triple-A truck arrived. I explained to the driver the nature of the problem and asked him to jump the car. He then began to argue with me, claiming that a jump would not work. I reinforced to him my first-hand success at jumping my car. After a couple of minutes of automotive back-and-forth the driver begrudgingly jumped my car.
            And it started. I WIN!
            That was when the driver told me, not so fast, grasshopper; there’s a service charge. I was incensed at this news. This was why I joined Triple-A – so that I didn’t have to pay someone for this kind of shit. After some obscenity-laden protests, I demanded that he get his supervisor on the phone. He did and, after his expert recitation of contractual rigmarole, I realized that they had me over a barrel. I paid the truck driver, told him, “Tip? What tip?” got in my car, peeled back onto the Turnpike and – like a scene ripped from The Simpsons – slammed on my brakes after ten feet in traffic.
            For the next hour I crawled north. I watched the smog thicken, the landscape grow brown, and pillars of smoke multiply. I watched the green of the Garden State dissolve into a web of steel and stone through a red filter of fury. I trudged past the city of Elizabeth and immediately despised every woman who shared that name. I inched through Hoboken and vowed to never listen to Sinatra again. By the time I crept through the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, I would have considered its sudden collapse and my resultant tomb of concrete and Hudson River to be sweet release.
            Finally I emerged from the Tunnel onto the island of Manhattan and, with a beleaguered sigh, turned onto Third Avenue. The West Side traffic was surprisingly sparse and I made the lights for five consecutive blocks before I came to a stop at a red. Oh my god! Am I actually going to get there, I thought. Are there no more obstacles to navigate? Has the last boondoggle been foisted upon my path? Have I truly bested the minotaur and reached the center of this labyrinth? Is it really over?!
            What do you think?
            The light turned green and I calmly depressed the accelerator. Just as I was crossing the intersection, a helmet-less denim-clad douchebag on a motorcycle turned onto Third Avenue, cutting me off and forcing me to hit the brakes. All hope evaporated like cold water on a hot range. I hurled invective at the motorcyclist from inside my car, spontaneously creating new curses out of the linguistic ether. I was the Charlie Parker of profanity. There was nothing between the motorcycle and my car as we both came to a stop at the next red light, mere blocks from my final destination. I rolled down my window, stuck out my head and yelled at the douchebag, “HEY! Did you fucking see me at all when…”
            He never let me finish. He turned his head to barely look over his shoulder, held up his middle finger and yelled back, “Fuck you, Joysey!”
            I’m not sure if everyone, once antagonized past a certain threshold, arrives at a point at which they no longer care about the consequences of their actions. But I know that I do.
And at that point I redlined.
            I got out of my car, approached the guy on his bike and, just as he started to turn his head in my direction – POW!!!
            He began to fall and I turned back to my car without a word. I heard both him and his bike topple to the ground behind me. I continued to my car, still too enraged to take even the most fleeting satisfaction in my righteous outburst.
            But as I was walking to my car, I thought, That’s a long line of cars behind me. And they all have people in them. One of them might be a Good Samaritan – even if he is a New Yorker – and call the cops. And I did just assault someone, which, technically speaking, is a felony…
            I’m gettin’ outta here!
            I jumped in my car, made a u-turn, and sped back to the Tunnel and out of the city.
            It took me half of the drive home before I was able to laugh about the misadventure, but it took close to two years to understand what my temper may have cost me. Who’s to say what publishing figures I would have met at the convention. I might have met someone who worked at a publishing house. Someone with the ability to decide what gets published. Maybe someone who was looking for something particular. And just maybe I would have been that something. I would now be writing this story for a very different reason and with a very different moral. Who knows – I might be on my way at this point.
            But on the upside, I did get a great story about how I clocked a motherfucker in New York. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


            Do I?
            Do I dare ask her out?
            How would I go about doing it anyway?
            The same way you always have.
            I can’t do that. She’s the hostess here and I’m a customer. You think she’s not used to guys hitting on her in here? It’s probably part of their training when they’re hired: How to Shoot Down Mr. King-Shit Diner.
            So? Why shouldn’t you be different?
            Because why? You’re looking good, aren’t you?
            Yeah. I really know how to rock a gut here.
            What gut? So you got a little paunch. You see pretty girls with fat guys all the time.
            They’ve got money.
            You don’t know that.
            I’m willing to bet on it. Remember what’s-her-face from physics class? Gorgeous, only went with the most popular pretty-boys?
            Yeah, and she married a big, hirsute doughboy.
            Whose family builds bridges in developing countries. The guy’s loaded.
            But you met him for all of two minutes. You don’t know what he’s like.
            So what?
            How many women do you think are like her: they were stupid and shallow when they were kids, then they grew up a little and realized they wanted a man who would treat them right?
            Rich people aren’t nice.
            So you’re going to sit here and doodle because you figure Hostess-girl wants a rich prick?
            As long as the guy’s rich, they’ll deal with the prick part.
            She is flirting with you.
            No, she’s not.
            Yes, she is! Every time you catch each other’s eye, she gives you that shy little smile you like so much.
            She’s just being nice.
            She doesn’t smile at anyone else like that.
            I’m sure she does and I just don’t see it.
            What is wrong with you? Isn’t she cute?
            What do you like about her?
            I like her voice. It’s high and a little nasally but not grating. It’s melodic and feminine.
            What else?
            Her body. It’s real. Her butt and breasts are just… perfect. Not magazine perfect, but, on her, they just work.
            And look at that – she’s even got a little paunch, just like you.
            I love the cleft in her chin.
            Someone’s smitten! An insignificant detail like that gets you…
            That’s not insignificant. That may be the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.
            You’re crazy if you don’t ask her out.
            What’s the point?
            Don’t you want to be happy?
            I won’t be happy when she shoots me down.
            You can’t know what her reaction will be.
            I’m poor! I’m in so much debt I have to live with my parents! I spent the last two years of college flunking it from inside a bottle of whiskey! I’m thirty and I have to work in a call center for a bank! Every free minute I have I spend on my art in the vain hope of getting out of my shit existence to no avail! Who’s ever going to date me? Huh?

            “Hey. How was everything tonight?”
            “Very good. Thank you.”
            “Get your work done?”
            “Enough of it.”
            “Fourteen fifty-three.”
            “Helluva year.”
            “No, it’s… it’s just the year the Ottomans conquered Constantinople.”
            “Oh. So you ever worried about spilling food on your drawings?”
            “Not really. They’re just rough sketches and I’m just working out the composition of the panels. When I get home I’ll do the actual illustrations.”
            “Are you going to be the next Stan Lee?”
            “Well, he actually just wrote the scripts. But he was a definite game changer.”
            “Well, you have a good night.”
            “You too.”

            Omigod! What is wrong with me? “Stan Lee?”
            Oh, what do you know about comics?
            Exactly. I should’ve kept my mouth shut and not done such a bang-up job mortifying myself.
            Do you think he expects every woman he meets to be a comic book aficionado?
            Maybe. The creative ones have really specific standards. Especially when they’re smart! Did you hear him with the 1453 history, whatever he was talking about? And I’m like, “Oh!” He probably thinks I’m a mongoloid.
            He thinks you’re nice.
            A nice fat boobless mongoloid.
            Will you give yourself a break?
            Then why won’t he ask me out?
            Like you said, he’s a creative one. Maybe he’s shy.
            I’m giving him the green light!
            The shy ones need a green lighthouse. You know that. Next time he comes in, ask to see some of his work.
            No way!
            Why not? He’ll walk out of here hard if you say that.
            What if he shows me his work? Then what?
            Compliment it.
            How? I don’t know anything about art. I don’t know anything about anything other than waiting tables.
            You worked your way up to assistant manager.
            And that’s as far as a dropout with a kid is going to go. Just forget it.
            You’re not going to forget it no matter how hard you try. He’s going to keep coming in here. And every time you see him, it’s going to eat away at you. You’re going to look at him and see everything you want and it’s going to drive you crazy because you think you could never have it.
            I can’t!
            Yes, you can! But you refuse to believe that. So you’ll let him get away. Maybe another keeper will come along, but you’ll start having this same argument with yourself all over again and he’ll get away too. Then some asshole who thinks he deserves you – even though he doesn’t – will lay on you what he thinks is a real slick come-on. And by that point you’ll be so miserable and defeated, you’ll actually go with him. And you’ll hate every minute of the rest of your life.
            Look! You’re debating yourself over this! You wouldn’t be doing that if you didn’t want to go for the guy. So get over your fear and do it already!

            “Hi. How are you tonight?”