April 26

Karaoke. You didn’t know.

A middle-aged guy in blue jeans with red suspenders and his shirt tucked in takes the stage with a melancholic rendition of “Love on the Rocks”. You see him at Barnes & Noble sometimes. He goes there with a backpack and a baseball cap and stays for hours. Reads a lot.

His voice is deep and he talks with a cadence that sounds aloof, and every step he takes looks a little too deliberate. You see him sometimes with a friend who’s shorter, slimmer, has more hair. They talk and talk and sound like close friends. This other guy sits while the big guy reads, never cracks a book himself. Just looks around, plays on his phone. Now and then he’ll interject with a remark. Big guy responds as though he weren’t preoccupied.

Next guy on stage is tall and white and bald, wears a sleeveless t-shirt, and he raps and even though the on-screen read-along has substituted the n- and f-word for something else he supplies them anyway. The room is uneasy, and he descends the stage with a smile. A shitty dude, powerless, takes what joy he can from making people uncomfortable.

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April 25

She was a bar tender at one of the bars in the mall near your house, still is, and since you were going there on a regular basis she got in the habit of striking up conversation. Especially on weeknights. Friendly, smart, compulsively adopting animals. Good company.

Call her Rebecca.

One night you stop at the bar with a friend. It’s a weeknight, quiet. She buys you both a second round. Some beer that isn’t selling.

Thanks, Rebecca.

Last call comes so your buddy and you head a few doors down and keep drinking.

An hour goes by and, what’s this beside you?

Rebecca.

“Hey,” it’s nice to see her, “where’d you come from?”

She got cut early.

And she’s not wasting any time.

Rebecca orders three shooters that taste like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. One for herself, one for you and the friend.

[chorus] “Ariba…”

Then she buys another shot — just for you. You drink it. She tries to buy you a third but you refuse it. Stick with your beer. Drunk.

Rebecca sets her phone down in front of you with the keypad open. “Put your name and number in.”

You do it.

Ask for the check and she tries to keep you planted but you end up paying and leaving.

Next day she’s texting, asking if you wanna hang out You don’t. Come up with an excuse. She asks again a couple days later. Thanksgiving is a couple days away so you’ve got an excuse.

“So much to prepare…”

Here comes the day. Do some prep stuff at home with family and tehn take off for a relative’s place where the platters tower and the booze runs quick. Get yourself plump and drunk. Go off to the TV room and fall back in a recliner.

Deep breaths.

Fat and sleepy.

Phone buzzes. Buzzes.

Reach for it, and see a text from Rebecca.

Says, You obviously don’t give a fuck about me so don’t even bother.

April 23

Every now and then you’ll have a busy morning where you get more things done than you expected but most days you go to bed feeling like you haven’t done enough. Wouldn’t be able to sleep if you’d done nothing, though. You abide pretty strictly by the No Zero Days doctrine and, big or small, there’s something to show for your day.

But mostly you’ll find yourself sitting at the bar when Happy Hour comes around and you feel like a criminal, a burnout, a loser. Tethered to this place where you’ll slump and sulk forever about how unproductive you are.

Like today: you woke up, recorded a podcast at the house. Then you came to the coffee shop and edited the podcast from 18 minutes down to twelve. A good edit. Then you posted it. After that you fixed your resume and sent it out to somebody who’d asked to see it. Then you did about fifty pages of reading, edited the evening’s blog post, typed up a hand-written essay. It’s not nothing. But you spent a lot of the afternoon socializing. Wondering what you could be doing to be productive.

So you get here and have your drink and crack the notebook so you can add this to the list of shit you did today and now you’re mapping all the shit you ought to do with the rest of your night. You’ll probably do one of the four things you’re planning. if that.

So here’s a question to drink about: how much is enough?


It occurs to the narrator that there might at last be a feeling of success, or something like it, when he posts the last entry for 

Thousand Movie Project.

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.

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 17

Hungry at the cafe but you check your account and decide it’s probably safer just to stay hungry for a while, ’til Happy Hour, at which point you head south to the usual bar for a halfprice beer and a halfprice appetizer, big enough to work as a meal, and to read for a bit before heading home.

At the cafe when you were hungry the barista got up from behind the counter and came over and sat beside you at the communal table, bored in this lull between busy patches, and without mentioning her son she says she might have to look for a new job soon. This sudden candor. Talks with spotty eye-contact, unprompted, about how she’s only just barely meeting her expenses. She refers your eye to the counter where, a few minutes ago, that empty and red-stained Tupperware was full of pasta and she was doing damage to it.

“Made that fucking pasta two nights ago, big pot like a witch, and I’m still eating it now and I’ll probably have it again tomorrow. Like…” Her breath catches and she shakes her head, closes her eyes, sighs. Opens up and looks immediately more flippant and cool. Says, “I feel like it’s fine in the end cuz I’m, what?, I’m twenty-eight. I’m just starting out, like, in life. So I know it’s fine, that this is like my Struggle Period and that eventually shit’ll be good cuz I’ve got like the work ethic, the brains, whatever whatever. It’s just…” mouth agape, pawing for a word, she finally just laughs, “it fucking sucks right now.”

And a cuple hours later you’re here at the bar, finally getting your Bliss, and you’re thinking of her life and of yours. Her attitude and yours.

You’re comparing, which people say not to do.