April 22. Never looks the way you thought.

At work your colleague shows you this book he just bought. A friend of his wrote it. Published by a small house. The author photo is a candid shot, kinda blurry, taken at an event where he’s wearing a suit and holding a microphone.

Start thinking about how the author probably poured his heart into this book and a few hundred hours of eager earnest work and how he probably pitched it to a hundred agents who all broke his heart before he came across this little press, a local outfit, that took his book and dressed it up and shelved it in stores and got him some speaking engagements around town where he sits on a panel or reads to a small audience so that he can feel some vestige of what he figured — while writing — it would feel like to be an author

Eventually you realize you’re being negative for no reason and hush yourself.

That night at the Brewhouse you get a text from your brother that rustles your feathers and you’re writing some long-ass text in response, “and this thing and that thing and how dare you” — pointless. Negative for no reason.

Just agree with him. And then turn your phone off. Have a drink and stop thinking.

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April 20

Use the garage today because it’s pouring rain. You know it’s a bad idea because they charge a weekend surplus but for some reason you go along with it.

At a bar upstairs the notebook comes out and you do a good amount of work in the sapce of two beers. The bill is $6, plus tip. It’s been about two hours. This is fine.

Leaving the garage a twentysomething in the cashiers’ booth tells you the price of your stay was $7. Frustrating. Guilt-inducing. Embarrassing, too, that you can’t go out to do some work over just two cheap beers without then incurring some peripheral expense that throws your supper into question and sets you on this nervous-angry thought track (made worse by the booze) about when you’ll next be paid and how embarrassingly meager a life you’ll have to lead until then.

The machine isn’t working.

Dude in the booth asks if you’d mind backing up 20 feet, changing lanes, and going and paying in another automated register.

Bafflingly, you say, “Yeah, I mind.”

Of course you don’t mind.

This dude with the glasses sighs and then apologizes but says that this is the only way for you to get out.

Of course he’s not sorry.

Two twentysomethings at an agitated standstill not wanting (not being able) to say what’s really got you both here, in this mood.

  1. He’s just doing his job, and embarrassed to be working here.
  2. You’re just broke, and embarrassed to be so.

April 19

Her name’s G. Whenever she shows up and you’re here already, reading, she’ll come over and sit, talk, and on the one occasion you told her you really needed to get through this book she told you to go to a library. She’d leave you alone if you really pressed it but you never do.

She has a brazen sense of humor and talks in a growl, sarcastic, her eyelids are heavy like she’s always exasperated but she gets softspoken and earnest after a shot. Sips her beer from a plastic cup instead of a glass cuz she’s constantly in and out for a cigarette. Prides herself on intelligence. Every problem she has at work comes down to her colleagues being stupid. Says she likes talking to you cuz you’re one of the few smart people she knows. You figure what she’s praising as intelligence is probably just your willingness to listen. But don’t say that.

G.’s in her early fifties and looking for a new job, maybe in the same industry, and tonight she’s talking, laughing, about french fries (her favorite food, surrendered for lent) and soliloquizes, in a way that suggests years of serious analysis, the french fry situation in Miami. The Cuban influence. The absence of White Castle. The flexible but relatively consistent supremacy of skinny fries over wedges.

She will not eat them curly.

After the first beer she goes for a smoke and comes back for a shot of Fireball, refill on the beer, and then, slowly, weariness encroaches.

“You remember the guy I was talking about?”

EMT, ex-military, she was hooking up with him while his divorce was being finalized a couple months ago. (Took forever.)

 

The guy feels guilt about sleeping with somebody else while he’s still married.

After a while, as the divorce inches toward a close, he keeps going over to G.’s place but he’s emotional, reflective, doesn’t wanna have sex.

His conscience.

G. tells him it’s fine. She scratches his back in bed while he vents. (Makes a point of telling you she could see him getting hard through his shorts. Closes her eyes and raises her hands, palms out, innocent: “I didn’t touch.”)

“Now…” she says. Just that. Leaves the word hanging while she sips her beer, looks away, shakes her head. “He won’t answer my texts for like ten hours if he answers them at all. Not answering a call, or returning it — I can understand that. But a text? You can’t text me a yes or a no for six hours, seven hours? You don’t shit? Can’t step into the bathroom and take your phone out?”

She says, “For two months we had literally everything I could have wanted. Simple shit. Someone to send a text: ‘Goodmorning.’ Send a text: ‘Goodnight.’ Little nice updates during the day. Meet up once or twice a week to get a drink, sleep over. Not even to have sex, if he wasn’t in the mood. But just that…shit, the company, man.”

You nod.

She drinks. Shrugs. Orders another shot and takes it outside in a plastic cup. You can see her lighting up outside and she doesn’t come back for a while.

April 18

Last night was open mic and even though you hadn’t prepared a routine, on account of so much work needing to get done and lots of family drama, you went up on stage. Underprepared. Fucked it up. Got down and lingered and had a beer, killed time, drove home and drank more and fell asleep cringing at how badly you’d bombed.

Wake up cringing still. In the shower you work the soap into a lather real aggressively, like to wash off the shame, and “fucking…shit” becomes the feverish, meandering, self-loathing mantra all through your morning routine: you’re getting dressed, checking email, driving to Starbucks, eating, posting for the Project — “fucking shit. Shit in my mouth.” Just start flinching outta the blue whenever you remember one of the awful jokes.

In the car you can’t escape the memories so fuck it, turn the radio off, confront it and “fuck, fuck me, I hate it. Get to the…chopper, fuck.”

Gibberish. So ashamed that words and phrases just come out, murmured or shouted or growled at the dashboard, doesn’t matter if it makes sense cuz what you really wanna do is scream.

So you scream.

It’s nice. There’s an endorphin melt afterward. Your throat hurts and your voice is immediately hoarse and will stay that way for two days.

Walking to the office you realize that if somebody stabbed you right now it’d be bad, of course, and that at some point in the hospital or the morgue you’d think, “Well I fucking wish this hadn’t happened” — but, tentative upside: literally nobody would still be talking about how painfully unfunny you were on stage last night. Even if somebody tried to bring it up they’d get shot down.

“Alex’s last routine was painful.”

“Dude just got stabbed, Reggie, give it a rest.”

It’s a slow day at work, nothing to do, but you will die if left alone with these thoughts about last night so you take out some essays you’re working on and start marking em up, flipping sentences, scratching out one phrase and jotting another, re-writing whole grafs.

And an hour later you’re just…here. Relaxed. Held up by the work. Yourself with pen and paper and the world, unlaughing, sitting someplace else, beyond the gate, doing its thing.

April 16. I remember you.

You’re about to go for a walkthrough at an efficiency in a convenient part of town and, being too excited, you get here an hour early.

Can’t go knocking on the door right now. Gotta be punctual, make a good impression.

So you go to kill time at a bar about five blocks away. Bring a book.

The bar tender walks up to you with this head-tilted squint, and so you start squinting right back at her, and bending your own head. She does seem familiar…

Then she calls it, smiling. For eight or nine months she tended bar at a big corporate chain next door to the nearest movie theater to your house. She saw you every Friday afternoon back when you sustained that six-month habit of catching a show on your day off.

You ask why she left the big chain.

“Got fired.”

(You have to stop asking this.)

She closes her eyes and tilts her head again and shrugs, like no big deal. “It was a shitshow there. Got fired on a technicality. It’s a long story.”

You ask for the story.

She tells it.

You drink two beers in the time it takes her to say that she didn’t card somebody. The customer was clearly of age, maybe mid-thirties, but rules are rules.

“I don’t really mind, though.” Again with the closed eyes and the big shrug. “This place pays me just as good. And we don’t have roaches here.”

April 14. La Quinta.

This particular La Quinta’s in a shady part of town and there’s bad lighting in the parking lot so when you get here at 9:30 it’s almost pitch dark. You walk inside with the McDonald’s bag and the Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand and your keys in the other, clutched in a jumble, unclear whether you’d swing or stab them at an attacker.

The elevator is wood-paneled and smells like 2002 and the hallway is narrow so you can hear laughter and coughing and arguments and all different sorts of TV while walking to your room. You’re on the second floor and two guys are having a heated argument in Spanish under your window so you draw the shade and turn the TV on and eat your fast food, drink your beer, stare at cartoons but focus mostly on money, jobs, where to go from here. Family drama. Issues with money again. Where will you live next month.

Something next door crashes into the wall behind your TV and you spill some beer in your lap, trying to stand up. Snatch the remote up and hit Mute.

Crouching by the window in your boxers and dress shirt, some vague inflexible imitation of a karate pose, rivulets of beer on your arm and crotch, you stand perfectly still, listening closely.

But your neighbors are dead quiet now. Not even a TV.

Blood’s pumping in your ears.

Creep over to the door and open it slowly and look both ways down the hall.

Just the white noise behind other people’s doors.

In the arm chair over the next two hours you watch cartoons with the volume low, taking small sips, going rigid and muting the TV whenever you think you hear something from next door. At some point you get into bed and at 9 am wake up with a gasp from some dream about a sniper.

April 13

Only other guy at the bar is thirtysomething and says to the bartender, tall woman all frecklespeckled with red hair, he’s surprised by how relaxed it is in here. He says this is his first visit.

“Place looks so fancy,” he says, “everytime I get near it I feel like I gotta book.”

She shrugs, wiping the counter in fast circles, “We’re not so fancy.”

He asks where she’s from.

“Virginia. What about you, you’re Cuban?”

“Yeah but I was born in New York.”

“I lived there for a while.”

He grins and does some clicking thing with his mouth. “It’s the best, I miss it.”

Bar tender puts a tender hand on the small of her back while straightening, and tossing the rag into the liquor well, exhaling. Strain of work written in her posture, her breathing, sweaty face. “Ahdunno.” She shakes her head slowly and looks either tired or defeated. “Wish it wasn’t so expensive.”