Hustle and Bustle
No rest for thee
We must keep moving
There’re ruins to see
Dirty Dingy Dusty Jordan
What an increase in mental load
To wonder what new horror awaits
When next I visit the commode
One of the greatest sights so far
A desert night and lots of stars
The moon throwing me a crescent smile
And Saturn, Jupiter, Venus in single file
With that sight a pleasant sound
Silence! By God, there’s no one around
“Quit your bellyachin!” Big John scolded the crew of seven. “I won’t stand for it.”
A whisper made its way into one of the crew’s ears about how few things Big John - a euphemism, as calling him ‘Fat John’ was grounds for dismissal - would stand for. The man into whose ear this sentiment was whispered snickered involuntarily.
“Who’s cracking jokes? I should dock all your pay.” At that there came a chorus of ‘fuck yous’ and miscellaneous grumbling. After a moment, one of the crew spoke up.
It had been a full day since the family first sought refuge in the small cabin. The hours had been spent pacing, arguing, and, for the two youngest members, huddling together under the table. They knew they couldn’t stay there, but the danger outside was too great to chance.
“Do you think it’s still out there?” asked Shawn, the oldest brother. At nineteen, he’d already taken over most duties on the family’s farm and had been looking forward to this ‘relaxing vacation’ for months.
“I don’t know - why don’t you check?” Cary spat. Sixteen had hit him particularly hard and a week with his family sounded like torture even before it had gone south. Spending the past twenty four hours within a few yards of the clan had worn through whatever mental fortitude he had left.
Staring ahead, mind’s dead
Paper’s blank, motive’s sank
Can’t think, spill no ink
Soldier through, a word or two
Fill the page, fight the rage
Don’t be mad, yes it’s bad
But what was missed, now exists
Chrysler had one more trick up her sleeve. Well, not up her sleeve, per se, as she had divested herself of her garments over the previous few minutes, but the phrase is applicable idiomatically at the very least, if not also euphemistically. Perhaps it works double duty as a euphemism, given the nature of her work. In any case, she had one final talent to display.
By talent, of course, we’re not talking about thirty-some kilograms of precious metal. She loved Gold and Silver - both had lockers near her - but Chrysler had none of their namesakes to her own name. The closest she came was a small “copper” bracelet Jade had given her made of a stainless steel police badge. No, talent in this case refers to skill and mastery of craft. Before we go down that road, it should be clear we’re talking about the intangible craft, not the nautical kind, as it was preceded by the word skill just moments ago.
The smell was overwhelming; it went beyond filling the young girl’s nose and seemed to bleed into taste, sight, and sound. She did not so much walk through the garden as float through it, carried by her senses.
“Violet!” the girl’s mother called out like a whip. Violet dropped back to her feet.
“Mom!” she implored. “I was having such a nice time!”
“If you spend any more time out here you’re going to turn into a flower--” Violet did not see a downside in this consequence “--go wash up and get ready for bed.”
“How dare you speak to your commanding officer like that?”
“Oh, I dare.”
“You’re on thin ice!”
“What are you going to do about it? You’re there and I’m here.”
“You just wait.”
With a slap of the chest the communication link between the two was disconnected. The Captain pondered his predicament - as yet undetected in the bowels of a Borg Cube, he wouldn’t stay that way for long. With the insubordination of the junior officer, his assimilation was almost certainly guaranteed.
“It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” -Socrates
‘This was supposed to be easy,’ I thought, having heard the challenges and feats expected in the competition. Sure, there were a few ordinary games one might play drunk in the small courtyard - beer pong, darts, and cornhole among the most conspicuous - but the announcement of feats of strength, dexterity, and constitution threw most of the crowd for a loop. Instead of nice, leisurely turns-between-sips, we’d be expected to haul kegs, balance beers, and hold a “cheers” pose for as long as possible. It was absurd.
ROUND ROBIN PROMPT: it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
Author change denoted by %
Some light editing for ESL authors
With a shiver I cursed what had gotten me into this whole predicament. I rubbed my calloused hands up and down my now-raw arms and legs, trying to bring a moment of warmth to my flesh. A noble, but doomed effort - beyond the walls of this pitch-black cabin was tons upon tons of ice and snow.
I am, for lack of something better to do tonight, going to post an unnecessary rant about others' need to post their unnecessary thoughts online. Perhaps it's my age. Perhaps it's a weariness that's been beaten into me through years of most people not giving a shit about what I think most of the time. Perhaps it's another reason altogether, but I continue to be astounded by the absolute drivel people feel obliged to type and post.
For we are those who like to move
For we are those who like to groove
Very soon we'll see new sights
Very soon new taste delights
For a moment in seat curled
Very soon we'll see the world
I am the watcher
Vigilance is key
While others party
I absorb what I see
The snake is a coward
Though he makes girls scream
Not a bone in his body
Is actually mean
The luwak can party
But only at night
By day he sleeps
While girls hug him tight
Falling Flying Foxes
Are bad acrobats
Knocks loose the fruit bats
Who sits on his stump
He's quite the curmudgeon
Perhaps voted trump
The bag wasn’t anything special, but it caught her eye. Everything seemed just the slightest bit more attractive than the purse she was carrying - the color seemed to match her dress, the clasps had a bit more sparkle to them, hell, the size seemed like it might accommodate those one or two last minute additions to her day. She basically had no choice other than to enter the shop.
Inside the shop, she exchanged pleasantries with the cashier before settling on the object of her desire. The price, however, became a sticking point. Where the inferior assemblage of cloth and leather that had entered the shop with the woman had only cost a week’s wages not even a month prior, the clearly superior accessory cost three times as much!
A struggle ensued. The woman began to extoll the virtues of her own bag and point out every imaginable flaw in the bag she desired. Once a comprehensive list had been made plain, a suggestion of an equal trade floated between the two women before being swatted down by the cashier.
The statement was issued without the slightest acknowledgement of its target. The young woman who made the statement remained melted into the couch cushions, her eyes affixed to the small screen she held in her hand.
“What in the world are you talking about?” The young man, her brother, touched his hair as if an answer had nested itself there. One hadn’t, so he walked up to his sister’s feet.
She ignored his presence for a few moments, if only to stay in control of the encounter. He loitered, waiting for an answer.
“I’m saying you’re a psycho, Ethan.”
“Because of my hair?”
“As *evinced* by your hair,” she said, looking up to meet his eyes. “Crazy people part on the right.”
"Well, who saw this coming?" one of the trio spoke after a moment's pause. Her companions shared a look and simultaneously shrugged their shoulders.
"Really, really? You two mean to say that we accidentally appeared on a beach that seems perfect for the three of us to take a nice, relaxing holiday? No planning? No intervention? No shenanigans at all?"
"Atty, we knew you'd never allow it, which is why I didn't say anything when Chloe planned it. That said, we're here and it's all in order, so you should just relax."
At that, alarms started blaring throughout the ship. Panic was the order, though a few pushed through the bands of people in order to try to save the lives of everyone onboard.
"Try to stay calm, everyone!" our presumed protagonist commanded. "Make your way to the lifeboats and shelter unless we give the order to launch!"
The command made only the slightest change in the general demeanor. Too busy to be frustrated with the stupidity of the masses, our protagonist - a young woman named Laura, as I've written too many male characters recently - patted her uniform ritually as if some answer to the current predicament were hidden in one of her pockets. Bumped one time too many by the passengers, she pushed, climbed, and shoved her way onto the bridge.
"Try not to focus too intently - you'll pop a synapse."
The neophyte didn't acknowledge her senpai, daring not to spare even a glance. The object - her object - floated in front of her as a partially filled balloon. She struggled to control it. Her eyes burned as she tried to manipulate it; tried to push it left, right, up, or down. She was barely aware of the tears running down her cheeks or the blood in her palms from her fingernails squeezing into her skin.
A melodramatic approximation of a cough filled the small room and echoed off the walls. Startled by the sudden eruption, the student lost control and the object 'blipped' out of existence. Now it was gray walls, gray tunics, and an accusatory stare.
Red orb rising
Mists fade from
Mossy green mountains
As we wind our way
Through the valley
I become numb to beauty
The small invades
Beaten Bruised Broken
Awe driven away
with every bump
Are we there yet?
Flowers have left my Fingers
Dead stems take their place
Dry thorns rake paper
To make life appear once more
Fishhooks yank at my eyes
My irises marionettes
Black spots fill my vision
My future is minutes
My pen might be a traitor
The other book a spy
Who can I trust?
No one, no one
Not even myself
What whimsy flutters by
Fanciful, farcical, deadly
I have been drawn in too close
Sever my head or pierce my heart
Alas it cannot be so easy
For I am made of stouter stuff
My torturer myself
Another blank page awaits
My podcatcher shows that I've listened to 279 episodes of Radiolab. It will stay at that number. This has been a long time in the making (obviously), but at some point the delightful edutainment podcast left and was replaced by a well polished approximation of what idiots think intelligence sounds like - the Big Bang Theory of podcasts. Where once I listened to episodes eager to learn something new, now they sit, continually being pushed to the bottom of my queue. I should have stopped a while ago - it is partially anger at myself for not having done so which is fueling this particular rant.
My first annoyance - the thing I always had to grin and bear to get to the content - is the way the hosts waste my time by speaking for the guests, often intersperced with the stupidest babble imaginable. A fictitious example:
Host 1: And so we went to Philadelphia to interview Simon
Simon: Hi, I'm Simon
Host 1: He's an expert in flags.
Simon: I live in Philadelphia and I'm a vexillologist.
Host 2: What did he say? Veximotoxilist? Vexipagoloist? Fleximotologist?
Host 1: Vexillologist - he studies flags.
Host 2: Ohhh, a vexillologist!
Simon: I like studying flags.
Host 1: And we brought him in to talk about flags.
Host 2: Flags? Like the flappy things? The things you put on flagpoles?
Host 1: Yes, the things you put on flagpoles.
Host 2: Red, white, and blue? The Star Spangled Banner?
Host 1: The very same!
Here I am, getting back to the roots of this blog (and, of course, not writing fiction). I was listening to one of the NPR political podcasts the other day which touched on the recent college admission scandal in the US where people - often celebrities - paid tens of thousands to millions of dollars to get their kids into elite universities. What really tripped me up was, in the span of a minute, the hosts talked about how these people were not the 1% (who "buy buildings" to get their kids accepted), but more like the 2% - which then they referred to as the "upper middle class".
I have a problem with the way Americans use the term "the middle class" - that is to say recklessly and indiscriminately. I almost guarantee if you went up to someone on the street and asked "would you consider yourself to be a part of the middle class?" they would answer in the affirmative. If you followed that up with a request for a definition, you'd probably get some wishy-washy statement about being able to afford some luxury every once in a while. It's a national myth that everyone's "middle class" and, I feel, that's harmful.
Hop in the way back machine with me to September 2010. I lucked out. Stumbled my way into a Federal career and picked Philadelphia as my first choice as a "Get Out Of Florida Free™" card. My rationale was that my sister lived here so I knew one person, and I had spent my entire life in easy suburban living. Dropping myself in a bona fide urban environment would be a culture shock, but like they say in poker you can’t win if you don’t put something in the middle. Year one I spent mostly getting used to my new job and trying to keep my truck’s tires intact. They were only slashed twice, so that’s a win by Philly standards. Year two my sister got married, and the month before that happened I bought a house two blocks away on Juniper Street after realizing that South Philly is a collection of amazing smaller neighborhoods and not a bad place to hang your hat. But the thing is I didn’t really take advantage of that right away. Anytime I’ve ever switched environments - new class, new school, new job - I sit back, observe, and wait for the right moment to insert myself into the group. I think that’s one of my strengths and a key reason why I get along with the majority of people out there. After two years of mostly focusing on my job and getting comfortable with living alone, I finally decided to venture out and try something new. Thanks to the local Philadelphia subreddit I’d learned there was a weekly happy hour at a bar two blocks from my office, right next to Independence Hall. Try something new, right? What’s the worst that can happen? Here’s what I learned. The worst that can happen is you stay at home doing nothing and meeting nobody. But I didn’t keep that up for too long. In February 2013 I walked into Cooperage Wine & Whiskey bar and met two random dudes who are still amazing buddies to this day. And that led to meeting more people through that happy hour group. Which led to me getting more social and willing to go out alone and see what happens. Which led to me checking out a new bar called SouthHouse around the corner from my house. Armed with newfound confidence I started discovering a community of friends and neighbors based around both of these bars. A few of the friends I met at Cooperage ended up buying houses in South Philly, and for the first time in my life I really feel like I’m part of a community. I’m 42 now and I’ve lived in 10 different states. Recently I realized that at 8 years this is the longest I’ve ever lived at any one address in my life. And that just so happens to be my very own house. Like Han Solo said, “she may not look like much but she’s got it where it counts.” It's no mansion but it's home. It’s a damn good feeling to sit back and realize that I managed to build a decent life for myself out of complete desperation 10 years earlier. Yeah, I did the heavy lifting but I also had support along the way from my mom, sister, family, the Government, and a few friends. I’ll never forget that. At some point I even seriously stepped outside my comfort zone and tried dating, which historically has been a non-factor for me. Too many other things to worry about without that headache. Ended up with mostly misses, a fleeting hit or two, but I learned a lot and it might not have been possible if I hadn’t gained confidence from feeling like I was part of a community. My biggest takeaway from that was I realized I do pretty well as a solo individual. And thanks to the many friends I’ve made here I never really feel alone. As someone who never really found a place to call home, it looks like I finally stumbled across one all the same. I can walk into a local bar and get into a great conversation with a stranger that just so happens to also be a neighbor, and I manage to fit in. I know how to order a cheesesteak without looking like a jabroni (seriously, it's not that hard, don't hold up the line). I studied just enough historic sports trivia to blend in with the locals who grew up with heroes like Mike Schmidt, Bernie Parent, and Eric Lindros. Most importantly, I’ve met great friends here and for the first time in my life really feel like I belong somewhere. I wrote this on January 21st, 2019 at a local bar: Taproom on 19th. I spent most of the night keeping to myself, listening to music and thinking about old friends, as is my style. By the end of the night I was having great conversations with locals I'd never met partly due to beer and partly due to the openness and community spirit of the residents. One thing was consistent throughout the night: I was surrounded by the people and energy that makes South Philly arguably the greatest neighborhood in the world. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a partner Sometimes I feel like my only friend Is the city I live in, the city of cheesesteaks  Lonely as I am, together we cry.”
“Hoss! Hoss! Open the fucking door!” I'm sitting alone in my barracks room on a weekend rocking a game on the PlayStation 2. Next thing I know I hear Bailey’s voice and an urgent pounding on the door. I open it and there’s Bailey, Farncomb, and the new rookie, aka platoon FNG (Fuckin’ New Guy) standing in the hallway. And between them is an 8 foot tall wooden post with a Yield sign attached. “Dude! We got this for you!” Bailey says. He and Farncomb look extremely pleased with themselves. I’ll never forget this moment. The FNG is amused too, but mostly because he got dragged along with the cool kids and clearly did a good job. “What the fuck?” I ask. Of course, I understand why they’re holding a Yield sign. It’s because these are my two best friends and they know how much this means to me. I’m just stunned that it’s right there in Charlie Troop’s barracks. They drag the entire thing into my room. Farncomb explains they were golfing on the neighboring Air Force Base and drinking one beer per hole. They took the FNG as designated driver so they could actually enjoy their afternoon. Price you pay for being the new guy, but the trade off is street cred among your fellow soldiers which is gold when you’re new to the unit. I stare at this idol beckoning to me like a shining beacon that connects my past and future. The sign is red and white, fit to fight. Just like the U.S. Cavalry. “We were a good way through and then we just saw this sign,” Bailey explains. “But to us, it didn’t say ‘Yield,’ it said ‘Hoss.’” He waves his hand across the invisible memory in his field of vision for emphasis. Meanwhile, Farncomb is laughing along with me at the whole situation. FNG is just happy to be included. “We drove right through the main gate with this sticking out the back!” Farncomb tells me. This is extra funny because Bailey drives a 2-door Jeep Wrangler which cannot possibly conceal 8 feet of anything, let alone a full size street sign passing in front of an MP checkpoint. At some point I had told my buddies about the time my friends and I “appropriated” a Yield sign from the streets of Tallahassee when we worked at Domino’s Pizza. One of my friends was pissed after a shitty delivery with no tip, and he got mad and ripped the sign out of the ground. We asked him where it was, then one of my roommates took his truck to the sight and unbolted the Yield sign which adorned the walls of our college bachelor pad as a trophy. When we all eventually went our separate ways, we left it with one of our friends. His wife eventually made him get rid of it, because..well...it’s a fucking road sign. But as I had explained to my Army buddies, that first Yield sign wasn’t just a fucking road sign. It was a symbol that my old friends in Florida had used to bond over one thing we all loved: Pearl Jam. My Florida friends had been Pearl Jam fans from the start, but I didn’t really discover the band until right before their album Yield came out in 1998. I listened to it a lot while delivering pizzas to broke FSU students. And then we all took a road trip down to Fort Lauderdale to see Pearl Jam live. And I loved it. That concert sold me. Their music helped me get through a lot of tough times in my life, especially while in the military. So I’m standing here at Fort Lewis thinking about all of this in a flash of memory, and all I can say is, “Dudes. I don’t know what to say.” Bailey and Farncomb just grin and tell me to enjoy it. I make quick work getting the Yield sign off the post and ditching the wood somewhere. I know I can stash the Yield sign behind wall lockers, but Sergeants tend to notice shit like a sign on an 8 foot post during room inspections. Out of sight, out of mind. The United States military mantra for success. In this moment I’m really happy because my friends know how much the Yield sign means to me. I have a deep connection with Pearl Jam’s music and they went the extra mile just for me. People might think a road sign is juvenile (college days, right?) but for me it’s not about the sign itself. It’s because my best friends risked getting caught by Air Force and Army MP soldiers to get the damn thing to me. Flash forward to 2019. I went though a lot of bad years and had to abandon a lot of possessions in Oregon at some point. But I never got rid of that sign. After rising from my lowest point in 2006, I went back to college, got a degree, and great career job with the Government. In 2011 I bought my house and that Yield sign was the first thing I put up on my wall. It’s opposite my couch so I see it all the time, every day. I'm staring at it right now in South Philadelphia, yet I'm also seeing it for the first time back at Fort Lewis. Friends who visit my house just see a scratched road sign. I look at it every day, especially when I’m playing guitar. And it doesn't say, “Yield.” It' reads:
From Zac & Cameron
1/14 Cavalry - Never Forget
"Here's a token of my openness Of my need to not disappear." -Pearl Jam
I spent the last two years of my life trying to rebuild myself emotionally. And overall I’ll say it’s been a success. Not too long ago I ran into a bartender at Cooperage who I hadn’t seen in a long time and she made a point of saying I look much happier. So it shows, and that’s a good thing.
I’m 42. I’m single. The only girlfriend I’ve ever had was back in 1993/1994 and she dropped me when she graduated high school because of my emotional dependence. I didn’t want to be abandoned again, not after what my dad did to me. But she did it anyway, and I can’t blame her. Smart move because we all have to do what’s best for ourselves.
Aside from that I haven’t been in a relationship in 25 years. That’s my entire adult life. I personally haven’t met another person who has been single for that long. I’m sure there’s a few of them out there, but we’re definitely the oddballs or the outcasts. Or unicorns depending on your point of view. And the bitch of it is, the longer you go without being a viable partner to someone, the bigger the stigma. The unspoken complication is that something must be wrong with you if nobody has picked you up by now.
I’ve been on a lot of dates over the years. Four is the magic number. There’s been three great girls I’ve met who went out with me four times but that was the limit. By date number four they all made up their mind and decided to move on. I frequently tell myself it’s gotta be physical because I’m a huge fat dude. I get that. But even I have to admit if that was really true then there wouldn’t have been a second date. They all could have backed off at any point. So maybe they get a glimpse into my insecurities, maybe the sense of humor doesn’t click - who knows? At the end of the day we went our separate ways.
As a result I’ve spent so long building up a metaphorical brick wall around myself because I’m tired of being hurt. I don’t want to allow my emotions to be fucked with anymore. After I got seriously hurt by a non-relationship 2 years ago I decided to throw in the towel. At my age dating isn’t worth the potential downfall and although it’s the easy way out, declaring myself as a solo artist is the safest option. I might be passing up potential happiness and a genuine connection that I’ll never know, but I can do what I want, when I want...and that’s true freedom right there.
I learn from my mistakes. Except when it comes to girls. Maybe it’s a deep rooted desire to feel important to someone else, or just plain old wanting to feel needed and relevant to someone else. But recently a girl I’ve known for a while suggested what I call “Schrödinger’s Date,” which is both a date and not a date until you take the lid off the box and observe what’s actually going on. This happened to me in 2016 and it was one of the best experiences of my life, followed by an absolutely crushing downfall.
Even though I’ve molded myself into the steely lone wolf persona, I buckled and accepted because it was technically her idea. So recently we agreed to an outing (date? hanging out? not-a-date?) and I guarantee she would tell you that it was every bit as awesome as I thought it was. We both had a fantastic night laughing and getting to know each other. It’s a rare moment when you connect with someone and feel that spark, but it was there. I can’t speak for her but I’m pretty positive that it was mutual. Maybe she just wanted a friend, and I've been that person many times. I'm glad to be there for my friends. It's one of the few things that brings me joy. Yet something about this entire night suggested more than that.
But after that night, what’s next? I’m scared. Can’t lie. I decided to break my own code and allowed a beautiful girl with a killer personality into my inner circle. We get each other’s jokes, laugh together, and also both have a shared feeling of loss and heartbreak that we don’t talk about but is hovering just under the surface. We share that feeling of uncertainty where we both aren't 100% sure if our lives are going the way we'd pictured. And the thing is, maybe she’s scared too. Just like me, maybe she’s been burned one too many times and doesn’t want it to happen again. After you’ve spent so much time building up that wall it’s really hard to let someone else in. Because when things go great but the ground eventually drops out, the fall is a killer.
So we could just chalk it up to a good time and walk away. Or one (both?) of us might decide to be brave and see what happens when you slowly and carefully let someone pass through that brick wall.
Maybe we’ll take a chance and put ourselves out there to learn more about each other. Maybe we won’t talk again save for when we randomly run into each other. But there will always be that one night where we laughed together and forgot about all of life’s other problems. And that’s a magical moment that can’t be taken back.
If that isn’t worthwhile, what is?
“Oh, he chose a path, heavy the fall, quarter to four...
Fills his mind with the thought of a girl.” - Pearl Jam