Querido person who stole my iPhone outside of a kebab restaurant in Barcelona at 4 a.m. and the prostitute who molested me immediately after:

I just wanted to get the Canadian girls’ email address and some fourth meal, not an unexpected $749 Verizon purchase upon return to the States and an aggravated right nut.

Shifty Thief, you’re a heartless motherfucker. Can’t you find a way to target individuals who actually listened when the Verizon associate told them getting the insurance is a good idea? But, Shifty Thief, I must be honest: Easy target aside, you are good at what you do. I don’t even know when you got me or what you look like, and I had even sobered up. I either placed it on the counter at the kebab restaurant and you swiped it, or I didn’t get it all the way back into my pocket and you picked it when I was molar-deep in some rolled-up European tastiness. I never thought I’d like any combination of food that included cabbage, but I was wrong, and no matter what you might have lifted from me, Shifty Thief, I’ll always have my cabbage epiphany.

Insincerely Yours Book Jacket RGBDear French Laundry Restaurant,

I know from experience how difficult it can be to secure a table at your renowned restaurant.  My telephone has a calendar that allows me to book well into the future, so I was hoping you could make an exception for a young man who knows he would like to reserve a table for six for his sixtieth birthday meal on December 21, 2029.  We would each like the full tasting menu and wine pairing.  I don’t know the dietary restrictions of those that will be present, but I can provide as the date approaches.

Thank you,

Mark Black

Dear Sugar, 

I read your column religiously. I’m twenty-two. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early forties. My question is short and sweet: What would you tell your twentysomething self if you could talk to her now?                                                                                                              

Love,

Seeking Wisdom 

Muumuu House (est. 2008) is a publisher of poetry, fiction, Twitter selections, Gmail chats online and in print.

On December 13, 2011, I received an email from Daniel Cooper that began:

Would you be interested in doing a piece for HTMLGiant on helping ‘Daniel Cooper’ become a Muumuu minimalist?  I’m new to the ‘scene’ but have years of experience in ‘being depressed’ and writing. I also have a new sense of being ‘ironically detached’ from my ’emotional vulnerability’ and a ‘real’ desire to make friends with people with ‘similar interests.’

He went on to explain why he chose to email me as opposed to other Muumuu House affiliates, a general idea for how he would begin to create his internet presence, and other things.

I responded:

Daniel,

I don’t feel interested in doing this, sorry.

My advice in terms of writing or [anything] is to ‘simply’ do you.

I don’t think there’s a ‘formula’ to becoming friends with [any Muumuu house affiliated author you mentioned].

I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading my things and things by other Muumuu House bros.

Good luck,

– Jordan

 

He sent another email, then I sent another email, then he sent an email asking me if I’d consider writing the piece for $25.

I said yes.

This is what I wrote to him:

Dear Daniel,

Life is different than a math equation because in life there isn’t a specific, consistent method of achieving an answer or desired outcome to a perceived problem. One wakes up, does whatever s/he does, then sleeps, usually convincing him/herself that there’s an inherent reason for it all.

There isn’t.

Life is similar to a math equation – can literally be viewed as a math equation from a certain perspective – because a math equation is ‘simply’ a math equation. A math equation isn’t sad, happy, boring, fun, or [anything except a math equation]. Some people enjoy trying to answer a math equation. Some people don’t. Some people don’t care. But no matter how one may or may not view math equations, a math equation is still ‘simply’ a math equation. Life is ‘simply’ life.

That’s it.

People say things like ‘Life is what you make it’ but that’s not what I mean either. Life isn’t what you make it because you don’t ‘make’ anything. Even the contexts of your ever-changing, inconsistent perceptions and actions have been created by everything that’s happened before that moment.

Anything anyone ever does is a result of everything everyone’s done beforehand.

Forever.

The moment a child is born s/he is filled with ‘input’ and his/her ‘output’ for the rest of his/her life can only consist of variations of what has already been or is being ‘input’ into him/her. The important thing to recognize is that the ‘input’ isn’t up to you so your thoughts/emotions/actions can never technically be ‘up to you’ (though understanding certain ‘input’ in the context of other ‘input’ can and will create different thought processes, etc).

But no matter what, the input still can’t care about you. It created you; is constantly creating you.

With this understanding – that your existence has very little to do with anything in general and that Oh Well you can’t control it anyway – the next step could be to accept your existence as a human being, then do what you want to do while you’re alive, if you want to be alive. Everything except for you and what you choose to care about doesn’t really matter that much because, as we’ve already established, your life is only a small piece of something gigantic and unforgiving that literally can’t know how to care about anything. Life and Input can’t think.

The universe doesn’t care about you or me or anyone because the universe can’t care.

In emails we exchanged, I recommended that you ‘do you,’ to which you said:

Re: ‘doing me’ I usually can only write — or want to write — out of a place that is very upset and angry and I usually use that negativity to justify writing mean, or upsetting, or manipulative, or jerkish stuff.  I’m actually ‘also’ working on writing ‘not me.’  Actually the advice you gave, and I guess I’m doing it.

If you only want to write ‘out of a place that is very upset and angry,’ I would recommend ‘simply’ writing ‘from that place’ or realizing that you don’t actually want to write out of that place, but from another place, then do what [you] need to do to get to/write from that place.

‘Doing you’ (being a person, enduring life) means thinking about what you want or don’t want then getting it or ridding yourself of it.

To me, that is the common thread among writers like Tao Lin, Noah Cicero, Sam Pink, Brandon Scott Gorrell, Megan Boyle, Mallory Whitten, etc. We’re not all the same and we don’t all write in the same ‘minimalist’ style all the time. I think we all ‘do [us]’ or are striving to ‘do [us],’ even if we don’t understand what ‘[us]’ is.

That might be the reason why I started writing in the first place – to explore Input and Output and to fill life with something that feels like something other than that.

I don’t know.

– Jordan

Dear Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman,

I want to give you an update about where things stand with our son, Milo, whose eighth birthday falls coincidentally close to your trip to Portland and whom we will be surprising with a trip to Keller Auditorium to see you speak.

When I wrote you before, we were faced with Milo’s first shopping list:

Dynamite
Thermite
Cars to Blow Up

You didn’t reply, so I have to conclude you might have been a little busy blowing cars up with dynamite and thermite, and shooting Buster and his Merry Band of Human Analogues.

Or maybe you DID get my first letter and now you’re coming here to help Milo navigate the choppy waters of being a sweet, non-violent pacifist with a desire to detonate with DetCord. (I thought “Debt-Core” was a kind of music revolution raging against the injustice of the current monetary system. Turns out it’s the cable you run from TNT, just like in Road Runner cartoons.)

“I need to make some dry ice,” Milo said yesterday, as we were stumbling off to do some chore which included nothing so interesting as buying nose cones from scrapped jets, or Building a Better Buster to drop him into a reef full of sharks. “Do we have the ingredients?”

Appalled that I don’t know how dry ice is made, I told him that we didn’t have the necessary tools.

“We’ll need to pick some up,” he said, making a new shopping list in his head.

“For what?” I asked innocently, believing that maybe, just maybe, he wanted to make the bathroom sink into a steaming cauldron of wizard’s punch for fun, or learn about the scientific process called “sublimation.”

“So you take the dry ice,” he said, “and you put it in a 2 liter soda bottle.”

“Wait a minute,” dim sparks of the synaptic process chugging in my head at the speed of molasses, “is this a MythBusters thing?”

He paused. “Well…”

“‘Don’t Try This At Home’,” I admonished, repeating the words you recite before every episode like a prayer.

“But…” he said.

“‘We are what you call EXPERTS,'” I said.

“I…”

“‘We prepare weeks, and sometimes months, to do the stunts on this show.’

He stared at me. I stared back.

For the holiday break, he wanted to brush up on his Mythmania, revisiting years’ worth of MythBusters episodes; now he’s got all sorts of ideas about new projects. He wants to join the Boy Scouts because he heard he might get to shoot things. He wants us to buy him a shop vac so he can make a hover craft. When I told him he needed to start with the small-scale experiments, he looked at me like I was crazy. “Go Big or Go Home,” his expression read, one of amused superiority.

Milo wants a Newton’s Cradle now–that clever desktop toy which sits on executives desks, clicking back and forth between its five balls, proving Newton’s law of “Every Action…etc.” But I suspect Milo’s motivation is to construct a Newton’s Cradle out of a Bocci set; the small one will provide the model, and you guys already built one out of cranes and wrecking balls, so he’s willing to split the difference.

“You’re looking at a vegetarian from California,” Kari Byron narrates in your MythBusters Top 25 Moments Special, which ran in our house over the holiday break the way The Grinch Who Stole Christmas ran in everyone elses. “I never expected that I would be a gun person.”

Cut to: Kari, cute little dress flittering in the desert breeze as she blows away a tree with a gatling gun.

And it looks so fun that I too want to climb up on the back of a military jeep with a Dillon Minigun (Minigun? What the hell is mini about a machine gun which fires 30-caliber shells at 3000 rounds a minute?) to mow down a dead tree in the middle of the desert, spent shells tinkling musically to the earth in a waterfall of destructive beauty. Where do I sign up?

How do we, a bunch of card-carrying Portlanders who have raised chickens, believe in bicycles as a form of rebellion, and want organic, holy-granola-roller seaweed cookies massaged with love and first press olive oil–how do we enroll for shooting classes? Is it even allowed?!

“What were you going to use the dry ice for, anyway?”

“A dry ice bomb.”

So we’ll see you in a few weeks, the fervent glow of rapt attention bouncing off the lenses of our young son’s glasses as he files away every single scrap of information you share that evening. You’ll know him by the look of devotion to the scientific method.

If it involves “Big Boom,” anyway.

Yours sincerely,

Quenby Moone

 

PS: Milo rolls the full name of TNT off his tongue like a weapons expert: Trinitrotoluene. I can barely read it, much less say it.

PPS: And speaking of the Grinch, my kid is scared of the Grinch. He is not scared of Trinitrotoluene or gatling guns or coffee creamer explosions, but the Grinch sends him around the twist with fear.

 

Dear Bear

By Gary Socquet

Letters

So people call me Garebear (Bear for short) not because it rhymes (that would be lame, and my friends are not lame) but because I’m actually half bear, on my mother’s side. A few years back I started an advice column for the lovelorn: as it turns out, you learn a lot about making relationships work when one of your parents is a bear. And, well, I just like to feel useful. I think you’ll see what I mean. Let’s dig into the mailbag, shall we?

Dear Bear:
My boyfriend is my best friend, he’s smart and funny and sexy, but he’s not a giver: he never considers my feelings, never asks me how my day was, and in five years he’s never once told me I look pretty. What should I do, Bear?

–Unappreciated

 

Dear Unappreciated:

Are you pretty? Is it possible one of the qualities you left off the list of his many fine traits is “honest?” Have you ever considered the possibility that he’s just taking pity on you? I mean, you call him your best friend, but it doesn’t even sound as though he likes you all that much. You’re clearly very needy, you have limited self-esteem, and at this point the jury is still out on your looks – although, honestly, if he’s never once in five years said you look pretty, well, do the math. And count your blessings.

 

Dear Bear:

All my girlfriend ever wants to do is have sex: first thing when we wake up, in the evenings while I’m trying to watch Jim Lehrer, sometimes she even shows up at my office in the middle of the day and tries to get me to do it with her on my desk. What should I do?

–All-Whoopied-Out

 

Dear Whoopied:

Hmmm. This is a tough one. Well, let’s start with first thing in the morning: the alarm goes off, you open your eyes, rub the sleepies out, turn your head, and there she is, giving you the hungry look. Am I right? Okay, here’s what you do: roll over, and have sex with her. Got that? Okay, moving on: you’re watching Jim Lehrer, he’s talking about a squabble in Congress, or the situation in Afghanistan, and she climbs into your lap and starts rubbing herself all over you – sound about right? Here’s the plan: position her exactly in the line of sight between you and Jim Lehrer’s face . . . and have sex with her. Now to the nooners: she steps into your office, locks the door behind her, sidles around your desk, puts one high-heeled shoe up on your leg, lifts her skirt to show you she’s not wearing any panties – am I close? This one’s the toughest yet, but I think the answer is coming to me . . . yeah, here it is: give her my number. Loser.

 

Dear Bear:

I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost two years now, and I really love him, but lately he’s been working super long hours and I’ve been spending a lot of time with his best friend (we both miss having him around so much), and, well, I’ve started to develop feelings for the friend. I don’t know what I should do!! 😉

–Helen of Troy

 

Dear – wow, Helen of Troy? really?:

Well, let’s see. A couple things come right to mind: first, it’s natural for the bonds of a relationship to be strained when circumstances change, particularly when those changes lead to what seem like satisfying short-term distractions; also, try not to be such a giant whore. That almost always makes things better. (Did you really just emoticon wink at me?) Good luck, Helen!

 

Dear Bear:

I’ve been with the same woman for seven years, and I’ve always thought things were fine, you know? But lately she’s been dropping all these none too subtle hints about making it official, if you know what I mean. I just don’t know, you know? I mean, she’s great and all that, got a great body and a good job, but I don’t know if I want to put myself in that position, you know? Like, the only woman I ever get to sleep with, forever after? Help me out, buddy?

–Jets Fan

 

Dear “Buddy”:

Yeah, I get this question a lot. It’s a real pickle. “She’s great and all that, got a great body and a good job” – I hear ya. Who wants that? I suggest a two-pronged approach: first – and it’s absolutely essential that you take these steps in the proper order – first, get your fat, stupid, Jets-loving head out of your ass, and second, get your fat, stupid, Jets-loving ass out of her life. Seriously, if she doesn’t realize she could do better than you, at least be decent enough to give her a chance to find that out. It makes me sick to think you might be the last guy she ever gets to sleep with – there, I threw up in my mouth just thinking about it. Be a mensch for once in your life and get the fuck out. Buddy.

Ah, that was nice. It feels so good to help. Now for my favorite part – here’s a letter from someone who recently came to me for some advice. Let’s see how he’s doing.

 

Dear Bear:

I’m following up to let you know I took your advice and talked to that girl at work I like. You were right – it was so easy! Turns out she got a new pair of glasses and she was asking people in the break room what they thought, and I said, “They’re librarian hot.” (No pun intended.) What’s my next move, Love Doctor?
(name withheld for obvious reasons)

 

Dear Scott:

Guh. Please tell me you didn’t . . . Okay. Shit. Okay. Your next move . . . your next move. Okay, here’s the thing: “no pun intended” is not an idiom. It means exactly what it means. It is intended to follow an unintentional play on words, like when you’re in a meeting and somebody asks the fat guy to “weigh in” on the topic. So I’d say your next move should be to tell her in no uncertain terms how much you love her boobs, and then say, “No pun intended.” Get it, Scott?

(I’m not going to lie to you, people: sometimes I wish I were all bear.)

 

Good News

By Siri Z. Müller

Letters

Dear Friend,

Here is some crap. Here is some shit, here is something useless, my dear, for you. To make up for my negligence and my weakness. I’ve failed you in so many ways, ha ha. My letters are too far between, so let’s laugh and make some fun. I’ve had a little wine. Oh I’ve missed you, too. So. Well… anyway.

Ach. I don’t know. Days come and go, stories pass by unnoticed, just a sentence each, not enough to care, not enough material to weave. The great big strokes come much later, after we’ve had time to feel and think. Life continues to happen in wonderful ways, churning as always, but somehow I have nothing left to explain, to anyone. But I’m sure it will have been a really great year, looking back. A turning point, as usual. Isn’t that always the way with me? Ha ha ha.

Well, what can I tell you? I ran a short marathon in a big city, part of it through a zoo. Inexplicably, the herd ran faster there, winding through somewhat impractical paths and things, and the rhinos turned to stare, incredulous. They were excited, happy. The cats stared. Somewhere, a giraffe folded her neck and snorted. So we ran faster. I was consistent, and surprisingly fast. I’d silently asked the gazelles for gazelle energy, and they telepathically informed me that that was probably a very poor idea, after which I asked the bison for some advice, but by then we’d already left the park and moved on to the next kilometer.

Some people ran in costume. I watched them for a while to pass the distance. It was my first marathon. Well, not technically a marathon, but a race. I’d been so busy that I hadn’t had time to train, but it was not an overwhelming distance for me, and I welcomed the change of routine, surprisingly, on race day. Oh but my body ached afterwards, I was lame and my lungs felt totally unfamiliar, stretched a little too wide. We drank beer and warm tea at the finish. Some of us were more excited than others, because some of us were simply trying to find new uses for useless bodies, a new occupation.

Quickly, and to my surprise, this I should share with you, I received an accolade, and a great deal of money. A privilege and a station, which is just weird, and I seem to have also earned respect though that aspect was coincidence, and not due to any efforts on my part. And of course I adore conflicted emotions, so this constant source of ambiguous disappointment is fantastic. Nevertheless, it is something one should be proud of, and probably speak of in less elliptical ways. But nobody knows, because it is not a thing I love. I won’t even tell you what it is. I know, I know, how silly I’m being.

Ach. What else can I tell you. The cat doesn’t have cancer, probably, but I did find a flea on the dog, and now everything itches, constantly. We’ve moved, and my husband has a new office, and it’s lovely. I do not ever have a thing to wear, any morning, ever (I see mornings now) and my digestion is fine, I suppose. My sister is pregnant, again. I am not, as usual. They sent a yellow card informing us of the fact, though we already knew months ago, by designed accident. She signed her son’s name, I’ve never met him. We don’t speak. My sister and I, I mean. I’ve told you, probably. Right? We have not spoken since my wedding. Well no, actually since her wedding which was after ours, and which we weren’t invited to.  Yeah, it’s strange, we were close, I thought. Oh but I’m used to it.

I don’t speak to any of them, actually.

I hear my mother is building a house, after all. My brother wrote on Facebook that he is moving to Florida. So that’s great for him!

Whatever. I don’t even care what they do, anymore.

No, ugh, sorry, I have been so moody lately. Hormones, probably. I am definitely not pregnant, though, ha ha. Oh I must have mentioned that already.

Me and my crumbling, decaying reproductive system.

Oh dear, oh ha ha ha. I’m joking. No no no! Don’t worry about me. Some day I won’t be so unhappy.

Ok, darling, I’ll let you go and have a good night. You have so much to do tomorrow, and I have so much to do here. Say hello to the kids for me, they are just so adorable, as usual. But it must be getting close to bedtime there. So I should let you go.

Much love,

Siri

As a gift for making it all the way through high school, my dad bought me a Sony rack stereo system. Up to that point I had enjoyed my favorite 80s music on a smaller unit, which was essentially a glorified jam box, although occasionally, when my parents were out of town, I sneaked a listen on my dad’s audiophile-quality rig.

This was just before the CD began to really take off, and the players were still pretty expensive, so my stereo didn’t have one. But it did have a decent turntable, and from that point forward I only purchased music on vinyl because the sound quality of prerecorded tapes was vastly inferior.

However, using expensive blank cassettes and Dolby Noise Reduction, you could record your own mix tapes and arrange songs in whatever order you liked, and the sound quality was indistinguishable to the ear. At least to my ear.

Dear M—,

 

I’m writing to ask about your goldfish, Javaunte. Is the World’s Oldest Goldfish still alive?

*

I’m sorry for the names I called you a few years ago. I’m sorry I wished you were hit by a truck. I’m sorry for stealing your e-mail address and trying to log on to your Facebook account so I could pick through your private messages and the profiles of men I suspected you’d slept with. I didn’t know much about Facebook then, or my own desperation for answers. Though I wouldn’t admit it, not to you, I was embarrassed. It’s not like me to do something that brazen or unethical.

*

Well, sometimes it is.

*

When I found out I was sick and might not get better, I went through Jason’s things while he was at class. I went through his desk drawers, his closet, the boxes under his bed. I went through his file cabinet. That’s where I found a stash of notes from you, filed under “Misc.” One of them had crude pencil drawings on it–you, Jason, and a smiling goldfish. “Please feed Javaunte,” you’d written.

Like everything else I found that day–a birthday card that spoke of a “bittersweet summer,” an old driver’s license word-bubbled with “I need some crack!”, a few photographs–I shredded the note to pulp.

*

We were moving to Alabama after graduate school. That’s why I started stalking you. Facebook, MySpace, Google searches with twenty different keywords: your name, law school, University of Alabama. That’s where you had just earned your Juris Doctorate, and where I would be teaching English in the fall. That’s where I expected to see you in my new coffee shop, my new bookstore, except they wouldn’t be mine because they would already be yours, like Jason was. I needed to know what you looked like so I could recognize you. What you looked like now, I mean.

*

In the pictures on Jason’s wall–the collages of college friends and concert tickets and newspaper clippings with his byline–you sometimes had blond hair, sometimes brown. In black-and-white, your eyes looked blue, but when I wrote once that they were blue, Jason corrected me. “Brown,” he said. “One of the irises leaks a little, like a dog’s.” He said that to make me feel better–here, a flaw–but I thought it was cute. I love dogs. I love flaws. I love Jason’s crooked bicuspid, the one he threatens to straighten someday, the one that cuts my lip when he isn’t careful.

*

You, holding a glass of white wine, a lit Christmas tree behind you. You, camping. You, wearing a Catholic schoolgirl’s outfit on Halloween. You, standing on a bridge with sunglasses on. You, smoking a Camel Light. You, sitting on a dock, looking out at the water, Jason sneaking up behind you to get the shot.

*

You were right about one thing: I can’t prove it was you. I know only that you had the disease first, the year before I did, that you lied about it, that you gave Jason a cure that doesn’t exist. What were those pills?

I can’t prove it was you, but I had to believe it was you. How else would Jason not take your calls in the middle of the night, when his cell phone screen read, “Baby calling,” and not see you on trips home when I stayed behind, and not one day introduce us and make us play nice over drinks? How else would those pictures come down so new ones could go up? How else would he finally, once and for all, let you go?

*

It was probably you. We both know this.

*

I never saw you in Alabama to tell you how I was feeling. In your body, the disease turned dormant and went away. In my body, it evolved.

When my sense of humor is most intact, I imagine a scenario. I imagine we are girlfriends that talk about their trips to the gynecologist. I imagine that, in Tuscaloosa, we get together over beers at Egan’s and grimace over the wrinkled doctor who treats us both in that complex behind the university. I imagine you know all about the protesters in the parking lot, the ones who carry misspelled signs (“You’re fetis loves you”), who call and make fake appointments. I imagine you, too, have had to arrive two hours early for a check-up because those protesters think you’re coming for an abortion.

I imagine it starts to get dark outside, almost as dark as in Egan’s. I buy us another round and ask if I can tell you something personal, something bad. You say yes. You say of course.

I tell you that the nitrogen oxide made me feel like I was rolling off the metal examination table. That the nurse held me fast and said, “Hush, baby, it’s almost over,” and I told her “baby” was your name and “darlin'” was mine. That Jason didn’t go in with me because I told him not to. That I wanted him to come in anyway. That I left part of my cervix in that room, the part covered in dividing cells, the part it took two people to make.

Like other women who have left pieces of themselves in that building, I, too, could call that part “baby.”

*

Even though your profile is mostly private now, I remember your pictures on Facebook. I made fun of you for writing “luv” in reference to your dog. I called you a bottle blond.

Here are some things I wouldn’t have said then: I think you’re pretty. I think you love your sister. I think your best friend is more beautiful than either of you, but also crueler. I think she has a controlling way about her, and I think you have done things to impress her that aren’t really you. I think you take a lot of self-portraits, like me. I think we are both insecure. I think that’s why I once cheated on a boyfriend I still miss sometimes, and why you cheated on Jason.

*

Jason and I are married, eight months now. At first, I made the wedding pictures public. You weren’t the only reason. But I hoped you would see them. Please forgive me. I’ve made them private again.

*

My friend laughs every time I tell the Javaunte story.

Jason was recalling Alabama, something he does more often now that we live in upstate New York. He couldn’t remember the name of someone in his hometown, the name of a wino who nearly died in the alley beside the Marion jail. “Oh, we’ll just call him Javaunte,” he said.

Immediately, I saw the bowl sitting on a coffee table covered with ashes and band stickers. Plastic grass waving in water that needed to be changed. A funny caption. “Javaunte: World’s Oldest Goldfish.”

I smacked Jason on the arm. “You pulled that out of M—‘s fishtank!” I said. He looked stunned for a moment, and then he remembered. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I completely forgot about that.”

I stood up to get another beer from the fridge. “I know everything,” I called, sing-song, from the kitchen. “You have no idea what I know.”

*

You know what’s weird? I had a really old goldfish, too.

I got Norman when I was eight. My mother took me to the Tioga County fair and let me go off with some friends to the rides and games. I had only one rule. I was not to play the goldfish game. No more goldfish, she said.

I didn’t think I would win. I had no aim, wasn’t the least bit athletic. It was just luck that damn ping-pong ball landed in Norman’s slot. The game attendant put him in a sandwich bag filled with water and tied it off. My mother was livid, but she mumbled something about fair goldfish always dying the next day anyway.

It started to rain on our way to the car, and my clumsiness caught up with me. As I slid into the backseat of our Chevette, the sandwich bag slipped from my hand. The knot came undone, and all the water spilled out, on the floor, in my lap. It had a fishy smell. Norman lay flipping around on the fabric seat.

I screamed, horrified. My mother didn’t want a fish, but she didn’t want one to die either, so we got out of the car and began scraping rainwater off the other vehicles, refilling the sandwich bag with about an inch–all we could get from the hot July shower.

We put Norman back in the bag and drove home. He looked lifeless, barely fluttering at the bottom. My mother told me to expect the worst.

But Norman made it home, and through the next day, and the next. He lived until I was twenty-two.

*

Besides fortified goldfish, I wonder what else we have in common, M—. I’m sure you’ve wondered this, too. I’m sure you’ve thought there’s got be something we share besides cells and boyfriends, something fundamental, something a man like Jason would love in both of us.

Maybe enough time has passed for me to send you a friend request. Maybe we should move our stalking out in the open. Look at the pictures, scrutinize the hair, the eyes, the easy or uneasy smiles at the camera Jason is or isn’t holding. Maybe, if we look long enough–if we watch one another change jobs, cities, friends, body weights and hair colors and outfits–we’ll find the familiarity we were once sure didn’t exist in the other.

Even if it’s just goldfish we’re determined to keep alive. That’s something. I hope Javaunte is doing well.

 

Best,

Amy

 

 

My wife,

I would’ve liked to meet you at eighty. Our busy lives behind us, perhaps we could’ve watched all those movies we missed. I would’ve liked to see Hangover II. I would’ve liked to watch JAWS one last time. I miss you already. I know, we don’t believe in Heaven, but tell me, please, when we meet again, somewhere, even if we’re just two amoebas sailing over the waters of some new world-promise me you’ll notice me. Forgive, my wife, it was I who lost our wedding rings. We never did make that trip to Jeweler’s Row. It was I who never had the money. I had hoped to take care of you. I had hoped to buy you a ring. I had hoped to buy you an entire house. I had hoped we might sit in perfect stillness and wait for the good news. I had hoped to take you to Barcelona. We will never see Barcelona again. We will never share ice cream again. Forgive me, I let my illness make me crazy.

I would’ve liked to meet you at ninety, my wife. Our busy lives behind us, perhaps we could’ve experimented with drugs. I had hoped to discover the mystery of salvia. I had hoped to discover the mystery of your nightie, how, upon waking each morning, you’d slip out of your nightie, fold it into a perfect square, and hide it under your pillow. Don’t get me wrong, I had hoped to revel in that mystery for years. I had hoped, for decades to come, to reliably discover your nightie folded into a perfect square under your pillow. And yet, at eighty, I had hoped to ask, “Why, my wife? Why do you that?” You were so mysterious. You never squeezed out the sponge after washing the dishes. When confronted about this, you said, “I’m still washing the dishes.” And yet, I could see clearly: you were in bed, reading A Visit From the Goon Squad, and the sink was empty, and the sponge, absorbing its weight in soapy water, was sitting on the counter, just one more example of how you compelled my world, how you made everything remind me of you.

I had hoped, someday, to meet our children. I had hoped we’d have a daughter. Gloria or Isabella. Or, as you once said, “Francine!” Just kidding. You never said that. You never seriously suggested a name. I would’ve liked to hear what you’d come up with. I know you would’ve waited until the moment you met her. I always admired that about you. You always waited until you met someone to decide. Even then, you never made up your mind. In the wine store. At the movies. Standing in front of a case of ice cream-a glorious predicament! You never made up your mind. Don’t worry. Even if we’re just two rocks zooming around the universe-I promise, despite your indecisiveness, I’ll love you again.

I promise I’ll use the last of the ketchup before I open a new bottle. I promise, if we’re called upon to sit in perfect stillness and wait for the bad news, I will hold your hand.

I promise, the news won’t always be bad.

By the time we meet again, I predict a cure! Forgive me, I let my illness make me crazy.

Thank you, my wife, for saving my life. Thank you, my wife, for using the last of the ketchup. You were never meant for the dregs. And yet, for me, you took the dregs. Even if we’re the dregs at the bottom of some new world’s primordial puddle-promise me, my wife, promise me, you’ll tell me about the future. Skyscrapers! Plums! iPhones! Forgive me, I broke your iPhone. I broke your iPod.  I broke every single thing. I only wanted to see what was inside. I broke you, my nesting doll, and discovered another you.

I promise, someday, somewhere, I’ll make it up to you. Wedding rings. Mint chocolate chip. Three or four daughters: Gloria I, Gloria II, Gloria III, Gloria IV.

Oh, my wife, I miss you already, but I just know we’ll meet again. Even if we’re just two amoebas sailing over the waters of some new world-I promise, I’ll notice you.

For now, goodbye, but only for now.

love,

Me

Contrary to popular belief, the most dominant dog in any given pack is rarely the first one you notice.

Like any dictator, an alpha dog may be either benevolent or tyrannical, but unlike many human dictators, alpha dogs are never emotionally fragile, touchy, needy, or exceptionally demonstrative.  They just don’t generally stick out unless something has gone seriously awry.

Dear vermiform appendix,

It pains me to write this. But at least now I can write. For a while, there was too much pain to do anything besides curl up in a ball and drool like a sad walrus on an unloved beach. Now, with some space between us, I can finally share my side of the story, and with an obvious debt to Alanis Morissette, there are some things, dear appendix, that you oughta know.

You remember the night I made a meal entirely with ingredients from Trader Joe’s? What a delicious meal that was. Being that at the time I was relying on Trader Joe’s for about 70% of my caloric intake, it was also a somewhat ordinary meal, and it was a safe one; no meat, and no dairy. You probably remember that, although I’m not even a vegetarian, I sometimes have a unexplainable hankering for vegan food. You can thank my vegan ex-girlfriends and my friend Goldie.

So when I began vomiting a few hours later, followed by fever, chills, body aches, stomach cramps, dry heaves, and then a persistent dull pain in my lower right abdomen, I first felt angry at that suddenly cruel and treacherous monster named Trader Joe’s. This was the worst food poisoning I had since my experience with Mystery Lou down in Argentina, but on many levels it was more devastating. A breach of trust with Trader Joe’s would be, along with the waning of print media and the ceaseless conflicts overseas, the Sadness Of Our Generation.

It was time to see the best doctor in the world, Dr. Garcia, who told me the truth: it was you, vermiform appendix. How dare you make me throw that kind, caring, dependable Trader Joe’s under the bus like that, when all you had to offer me was your own vestigial confusion?

Now look, I understand that you’ve had it rough. A bit of an identity crisis and all that. Many of my other organs that knew you, that saw you around, they liked you – but they also knew that you were ultimately up to no good. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t just listen to them sooner. I’ve since met people who’ve had their appendixes removed preemptively, say, before traveling overseas for a year, just to get the damn thing done with and get some closure.

You lived right under my nose for so long before I really got to know you, but once I really did—and it breaks my heart to say this—you quickly became impossible to live with. You were like that neighbor that I’d never met for years, who, right after we finally met, decided he could start blasting reggaeton at 6:30 in the morning. Only in your case, there was no landlord to call, and the reggaeton was potentially fatal.

Dr. Garcia immediately sent me to a CT scan and a few hours later it was confirmed: The pain in my life was from you, and you had to leave. Still, I fought this conclusion; I didn’t want to let you go. I asked right away if there wasn’t something I could do to make things go back to the way there were, maybe couples counseling, maybe a nice weekend getaway with just the two of us—someplace that’s not in the news, like Togo or the Pitcairn Islands—but no. That night I was to go to the hospital.

It was a bad night for sympathy. A couple friends of mine had dying or injured pets, one friend was having a final going-away party before a permanent move to New York, and it was raining in Los Angeles, which meant that no one wanted to drive, especially the people in their cars. However, my friends Jake and Dan came to the rescue and arranged for my safe transport to and from that place where I would finally kiss you goodbye.

Some good people helped me through our separation. I had a pretty wild anesthesiologist named Mikey who is apparently known for the “awesome music” (the nurse’s words) he plays during operations. Matthew, my laparoscopic surgeon, I found later, does not agree with said nurse’s assessment. Apparently the battle during my operation, between Mikey and Matthew, was whether to listen to Gloria Gaynor or Coldplay. You decide which, if either, is awesome.

If they let me choose, I would have requested reggaeton, specifically “Chacarron Macarron” by El Mudo, as loud as possible, but it didn’t matter, because whatever they did play, I didn’t hear at all. When I came to, I was in a dark room called RECOVERY with two people I had never seen before and would never knowingly see again. They seemed bored, so I knew that everything was swell.

Staying overnight in a hospital is like trying to sleep on a cross-country bus. I was awoken constantly all night by strangers, and for often logical but also disorienting reasons. I passed the time between intrusions by watching, (in order of quality, coincidentally) Rear Window (awesome), The Karate Kid (amusing), and Dinner For Schmucks (corrosively dumb). During my fitful sleep, I was somehow able to avoid having a nightmare about being pushed out of my window by Raymond Burr, though if that would’ve prevented me from watching Dinner With Schmucks, I’d have understood.

The Trader Joe’s dinner was on a Wednesday night, and after vomiting it up, I didn’t eat solid food again until Saturday afternoon, when a kind nurse brought me Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, and a big brown bowl of the thickest, most savory soup I’d ever tasted. I decided to finish off the soup first, and then noticed they didn’t give me any gravy for the potatoes. I then realized what I’d just eaten an entire bowl of.

If you’re ever in a hospital again, try it some time. They’ll totally give you a free pass for that kind of thing.

After about seventeen hours, I was on my feet and out of the hospital, six pounds lighter than I’d been on Wednesday, and who knows how much of that was you, dear vermiform appendix. It was tough at first to get my old strength back, and to find myself again, but with the help of a number of friends, I made it through. The wounds are still healing, and for now I need my space, but I honestly wish you well.

Everyone asks if I saw you one last time, and sometimes I think it’s a shame I didn’t. I heard they sent you up to pathology, where you were a bit of a rock star. I know I would’ve been proud.

XOXO,

J. Ryan


Dear Herman Miller:

I am writing to ask if you would please send me one of your Embody chairs. For free.

Before I proceed, I want to assure you that I realize that the Embody chair is a work of high art and should not be granted to just anybody. With a price tag of $1100-$1600 there can be no question in anyone’s mind that Bill Stumpf’s last design was created for a distinct class of the seated elite. That Backfit frame that adjusts so perfectly to the Pixel-Matrix Support pads could only have been hatched by an ergonomic genius. And with seven different possible adjustments, every conceivable curve and contour of the back is cradled by attentive efficiency, leaving only the soul jonesing for more and left to cry out for the fulfillment of productivity. Well worth the money…I don’t have.

With the success of the uber-popular Aeron chair hatched in the 90s, you have by now no doubt had hundreds of thousands of clients at Herman Miller. I read recently that the Aeron chair itself boasts over 50,000 clients. The fact alone that you can refer to one who sits in a Herman Miller chair as a “client” speaks volumes – as if the person is being served by an accountant or possibly a psychologist. I imagine that a client of the Embody chair doesn’t even need a psychologist, as the chair itself is a psychologist. Have studies been done on this? Do clients of the Embody chair need less psychological help? Does the Embody chair pay for itself in a matter of only a few spared sessions of therapy?

I realize that I am asking for a lot. I am not a particularly lucky person or habitual prizewinner, nor am I accustomed to receiving free things, unless you count coffee or socks. Perhaps you do not care to know about such things, but I do feel it is important to be honest with you if we are going to start off on the right foot. The socks were from an over-zealous store clerk who then wanted, in exchange, my phone number. He was clearly a college boy who did not realize that I was at least 10 years his senior and, by the way, married. His mistake was giving me the socks first and then asking for my number. By the time I set him right it was too late to ask for the socks back. He was brave through his inflamed acne-scarred cheeks and even stammered that, if I wanted, we could still go get coffee (his treat) after he got off work “as friends”. The socks were of the water-wicking wool variety. And comfortable.

At any rate, I do not frequently come across free things nor am I a woman of means. I am a writer, as well as a struggling entrepreneur. When I’m not blogging about what it was like to grow up so religious that I wasn’t even allowed to use a Speak N’ Spell because it contained the word “spell” and talked like the devil, I help run a rural ISP in the mountains west of Boulder from a bulky mess of a chair I purchased over 12 years ago from Office Max. Even as I sit here now, the chair wheezes and swivels habitually to the left toward my bookcase whereupon I am subject repeatedly to the temptation of literary escapism. That I can finish this letter at all in the face of such partisanship is a small miracle.

Even so, in 2008 – in the face of distraction from my left leaning chair – I co-founded a web-based social lending company, which ended up being named as one of Colorado’s most innovative companies in the same year. This was fantastic and would have been upgraded to positively thrilling had we actually been funded as a result of the honor. Unfortunately, I and my co-founders needed to eat so the company is currently treading water. I am not saying that possession of a Herman Miller Embody Chair, or possibly an extra in carbon balance fabric with an aluminum base on a graphite frame for one of my co-founders, would help the company get back in the race, but I am not saying the opposite would be true, either.

Of course, I would never ask for something for nothing, Herman Miller, and I realize that with a free Embody chair would come grave responsibility. I assure you, I am an avid user of several social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and would vow to regularly broadcast praises about the Embody chair while simultaneously typing from the comfort of one. Also, I would commit to end every blog post on TheNervousBreakdown.com and elsewhere with the tag, “This post was written from the blissful comfort of a Herman Miller Embody Chair and is certifiably 100% ergonomically correct.” In addition, my memoir about growing up Evangelical is due out from Emergency Press within the next 12 months, in which I will also happily make an endorsement of comfort.

Herman (may I call you Herman?), I realize it is not your policy to send out a free chair(s) to every person who asks for one (or two). In this case, however, I would like to offer that this could be a mutually beneficial exchange with potential for a lasting and, dare I say, passionate relationship. In other words, I will happily play Anaïs Nin to your Henry, er, Herman Miller.

If you will have me, that is.

 

Warmly (Not to be confused with the warmth that comes from constantly overcorrecting to the right),

– Erika Rae

 

 

PS – Should you decide me a worthy recipient, I will gladly cover shipping charges. Please email me at erae [at] thenervousbreakdown [dot] com or find shipping instructions in a subsequent post entitled, “Dear FedEx”.

 

 

Dear Fred, Dearest Nancy,

If, as the kids say, modern life is war—and I believe it is—then I no longer wish to be employed at The Strand Bookstore. To put it another way, more responsive to Fred’s upbringing then Nancy’s Go Go 70’s background; Maggie’s Farm—I no longer wish to work it. In fact, I wish to so terminate my relationship with Maggie’s Farm that I no longer understand the reference.

The reasons for my self-termination are plenty fold. Firstly, I do not enjoy going to work. On time or at all. But especially on time. My tardiness should never have been an issue, and certainly not one that was brought to my attention. Working at a book store shouldn’t be a popularity contest. This isn’t one of those offices where cupcakes are currency, and awkwardness—true and painful awkwardness—is mined for humor by the British. This is a bookstore. Or at least, that’s what it says on the sign outside. Now, after three-and-a-half years spent shelving the likes of Reckless Sunbeams: Finding a Life Through Love, I have my doubts.

And let me just tell you, when management told me to stop drinking on the job, a part of my childhood was stripped away. My father worked in construction or finance or was a tenured professor and all I’ve ever wanted was a job I could be drunk at. And, for the record, I NEVER drank on the job. I was, in fact, always still drunk from the night before. There’s a big difference between Old Granddad between the stacks and having spent the morning re-enacting the McCarthy-era education reel “Star Nosed Mole Vs. The San Andreas Fault” with an NYU mod whom one picked up at Morrissey Night. You would think that upper management, with their highly developed sense of smell and ingrained inclinations, would know where on the alcohol timetable a person was. My drinking on the job would be like cavemen fighting the dinosaurs— fun but unnecessary.

I don’t want to waste your time with the usual complaints about the quality of the books that I shelved, day after day, in the unchanging weather of the basement. My mother birthed me with a certain expectation of disappointment, but she’d have to lower the bar considerably before I added literary criticism to the pyramid of disenchantment that I’ve managed to build for her. If anything, my work at The Strand has made me more sympathetic to authors. Or at least more suspicious of those who think funning on them is the same as speaking truth to power. The literary world is innocent. Jews without any real ability need to do something and there will always be someone writing short stories with titles that are longer than absolutely necessary. The author of “Marc Almond Wears a Wristwatch (Because He Wants to Know What Time It Is)” is neither Prime Minister Botha nor the Coca Cola Corporation, and I won’t act like he/she is. Having said that, I’ll be glad to go back to reading magazines exclusively on the subway. I don’t like the way that people take a book in hand as some sort of signifying badge of membership in an elite. You don’t see people with bikes exchanging smug looks with other people with bikes. Well, ok, you do. But I don’t like that either.

When I was twenty-five I swore that I would never be the cool guy in his thirties at the bookstore, playing in a semi-popular band, sleeping with 21-year-olds. That would make me a failure. My success is that I am in a truly unpopular band and I sleep almost exclusively with girls in the 23–26 range. I am all too aware, as I had it pointed out to me by Samantha at the registers, that men who are self-deprecating while slyly bragging about fucking younger women are truly despicable. We fit somewhere on the social hierarchy above pedophiles and below male models. With the film actors who talk about how doing blockbusters allows them to do smaller fare, like saying that slitting open the bellies of baby ducks for cash allows them to buy platinum collars and bells for the neighborhood strays. Thank you for that, Samantha. Thank you.

I think it’s important to not be delusional about the sort of man or woman you’ve grown up to be, but you also have to avoid being a bore or—worse—clever. If you have to be that anarchist who hangs himself in the backyard of the bar, first set down a tarp or some sort of throw rug. There’s always a cleaning crew, and, if you have one essential goal in life, it should be to make their lives no more difficult than absolutely necessary. I suspect that my behavior at work is making other people’s lives exactly that, and I am not without a conscience.

There are those who will tell you that the doing of the work is almost as important as the quality of the work. That effort and striving, just trying, defines one’s character. I don’t take issue with these people’s standards. And, while I prefer to stay in bed until well after three in the afternoon, I’m not opposed to hard work, especially theoretical hard work, of an academic nature, performed by other people. I’m just saying that a lot of the author/prisoners that these people advocate for go on to kill again upon their release. But do I digress? I do. I’m sorry Fred. I’m sorry Nancy.

But who will apologize to me, for the digressions that have been foisted upon me and my plans? When is my Off Topic Day Parade, with politicians glad-handing babies and homosexuals protesting on the side lines? I know that I’m not the only one who once had perfectly fantastic reasons for moving to the city. The majority of my co-workers, if the break room chit chat is any indication, moved here for the mediocre Thai food and the plentiful artistic forums to express their first-world hassles as some sort of Gaza level tragedy. For myself, I moved here for the poetry, the hard drugs, and the roving gangs of loose and insecure publicists. If, while describing the dry, defensive, overeducated-Berkshires-by-way-of-Athens, Ohio detritus of my existence, I have seemed flip or even—ha—resigned, it’s because working in a bookstore for so long has numbed me to dramatic possibility. This, I think you’ll agree, must change.

Goodbye dear sweet bosses. You’ve been really okay. Tell the gang that I love them and the union that I think it’s cute the way it fumbles at the lock to the door to dignity. Tell Matt on the third floor that I hate every shirt, ironic and non, that he’s ever worn. And, most importantly, please tell Samantha (who I suspect is really named Becky) at the registers that I burn for her. Tell her that I burn to be the sexual stopgap between her MFA and her assistant editorial-ship at n+1, that I yearn to be the bad actor sweating over her shuddering whiteness, and if she ever changes her mind about that oft offered, never accepted, drink after work that I am, now and forever, “after work”.

Would you do that for me, Fred? Nancy? Thank you. You’re mensches.

I Will See You Around, 
Zachary H. Lipez




To my darling Cecilia,

I’ve spent much of the day – such a harsh and lonely day! – reclining in my recliner and daydreaming of the house we once shared, of the days that once were, and are no more. I ate the remaining crabcakes – such last and homely crabcakes! – and washed them down with recollections of the home we made together, where we, or at least I, had so many good times. In the afternoon I bought some shirts.

And I was nearly overcome by the brutal and unforgiving strength of my fond memories. Nostalgia gripped me like a headlock from Jean-Claude Van-Damme, except around the face, and every time I tried desperately to break the hold of the past and steal a gasp of the present, all I could taste was another muscly mouthful of sweating Belgian.

Metaphorically.

I laughed as I remembered lying on my hammock in our shade-dappled orchard backyard, sipping on a glass of iced tea (as cold and refreshing as if it had been squeezed straight from Martin Sheen’s heart), the sun on my face, watching you gingerly reshingle the roof. I chortled heartily as I remembered you, shaky-voiced and trembling, confessing you had a mortal terror of heights. I guffawed until I couldn’t breathe and I started to faintly taste vomit as I recalled the terrified shrieks of anguish you made, falling three storeys up, only to hook your ankle on the giant breasts of one of the gargoyles that I had selected, and you had paid for and installed, some months previous.

Ah.

Those were the days, all right.

How I wish we still lived together now, Cecilia, because then my heart would once more be overflowing with love. And also, because I wouldn’t have to leave the house, or even the couch, really, to get laid.

But mainly, it would be about my love.

My love for my swimming pool, which cherished and understood me better than you ever could. Diving into its cool, forgiving waters was like hearing a choir of archangels sing Handel’s Messiah. Closing my eyes and drifting through its peaceful shallows was like listening to Mariah Carey’s sensual audiobook interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita. Swimming into the embrace of its darkened depths was like watching Joe Pesci get pulled apart by rabid timber wolves. It was my solace, and my bliss, and my respite from your well-meaning but misplaced and wearyingly continual attempts to engage me in conversation.

Just as there is no longer a you with which to spend my life, so too is there no longer a swimming pool in which to avoid you in.

And it’s breaking my heart, Cecilia.

I spend my nights alone now – alone and shirtless, gently rocking back and forth in this rocking chair that we bought together with your money for your mother, feeling the cool night breeze slink in through the open bay windows and caress my naked torso with gentle fingers. Sometimes I eat a sandwich and play Mortal Kombat to take my mind off my troubles, it’s true, but that’s not very often. Sometimes I wonder if Lord Byron would have been so moody if he’d had the chance to assume the role of Raiden, God of Thunder, and teleport from one side of a room to another, shooting bolts of lightning as he did so.

But Mortal Kombat is no you, Cecilia! Just as you are no swimming pool! I’ve been forced to make do with sneaking into my neighbour’s hot tub at nights, although, I have to say, the most entertaining part of these little endeavours lies in selecting which of the secret passages I have devised into his back yard to use – an idea that I lifted in its entirety from an Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Three Investigators novel:  The Mystery of the Falsified Paternity Test.

Do you remember our secret tunnels, Cecilia? I’m sure you don’t, because I never once shared the location of them with you, as it would most likely have raised questions about how I never had to buy gas, and your car kept getting siphoned clean, even when you parked at your sister’s house seven blocks over. Let me just say this – that with a shovel and determination, a packed meal and an up-to-date map of the municipal sewer system, a man can get his hands on a surprisingly large amount of his de facto wife’s car’s gasoline. If you catch my drift.

If I must spell it out for you, what I mean to imply is that I spent a lot of time watching your sister undress.

There.

I’ve said it.

The moon is full and the Glenlivet is good and the night is hot, Cecilia. Hot like the sex you had with Steve Buscemi on the Oriental rug that I brought back from the Orient, along with a scale model of the Orient Express. Although there were no Gypsy thieves making gas attacks on that particular miniature.

How happy I was when I walked in the door with that rug, proclaiming ‘Fuckin’ awesome! Check out this badass rug! I already totally love it way more than I’ll ever love you! I sure do hope I never catch you having a sex with a male celebrity or overweight female celebrity on this!’

Yeah.

I asked for one thing.

I turn for you, tragically,

Simon