deskjob TNBI chugged hard on the last of my beer and wiggled the empty can in the air for Mustachio behind the bar to see. Another cold sweaty can arrived with its short shot buddy. Then another. And another. A parade of cans and shots across the bar and the place filled up with people.

A woman I recognized came through the door and pushed her way into the crowd. She walked down the bar and sat next to me on the only empty stool.

(1)

Playa del Rey and Venice Beach, California

7:05 p.m.: Seated at a fine restaurant. Intelligent, attractive, interesting and sometimes flammable man on one side of the table. Me across.

Trout with almonds. Carrot soup. Half a bottle of chardonnay. Mountain elk.

Dessert: the one on the cover of a magazine that made me want to dip my finger onto the page and come away with a drip of chocolate. The photo that led us here.

Hooray Beer!

By Alan Brouilette

Food

I didn’t start to like beer until I was about 35.   When I was growing up, you had pretty clear beer options.  There was Miller, and Budweiser, and Coors, and that was basically it.  I recall the occasional appearance of Heineken in fancy restaurants.  Based on the occasional sip of Mom’s beer, I determined early on that I didn’t like any of them.  I remember the first ads on TV touting Samuel Adams Boston Lager as better beer; something about winning a mess of gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival.  Tried that, eventually.  Miller Lite, but bitterer.

Beer’s off the table. I mean, it never even entered my mind. Every single-speed enthusiast worth his weight in flannel has started at least four kitchen microbreweries. So that’s out. Same with meats. If I see one more menu advertising “flavor-conscious charcuterie,” I’m going to stop eating porchetta altogether. Okay, not really, but I’m definitely going to be really put off and order free range chicken instead sometimes. French fries are out. Chewing gum too. Shirt making (for humans, pets, and dolls). Sweater knitting (for doll-like humans who also happen to be pets). Soap barring. Beading of every type. Pencil sharpening. Beekeeping. Shoelace ironing. Shoelace wrinkling. Pencil un-sharpening. Jaw surgery. It’s all been done. And it’s not like I haven’t considered the full gamut of options, because I have.

Today was a day of redemption for those of us that were picked last.  Today, we went to baseball. Baseball didn’t come to us.

Slake Magazine’s Craig Gaines called the game and the challengers were Red Hen Press, Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), and Black Clock Magazine.

It was the first game of the Los Angeles’ indie press initiated Litball.  When you get a bunch of writers together, some of them in matching outfits, the quality of conversation goes up.

I was finishing off a bowl of lingonberry porridge yesterday morning when a helicopter suddenly swooped past my window. As it hovered, sirens began to wail. Air horns blared. Whistles whistled. Itching to witness some good old-fashioned gore and violence, I grabbed my camera, favorite Batman blanket and matching gas mask, and sprinted to the normally serene river where I witnessed a scene of profoundly disturbing perversity:



















This was the annual Kaljakellunta or “Beer Float.” It has no official organization and doesn’t actually exist until the first raft hits the water. It’s illegal and theoretically dangerous as hell, since the point of the whole thing is to drink as much beer as possible while floating down a feces-hued river.

Sweating with delight, I sat and waited for the police to arrive and club a few revelers into sobriety. I waited. Then I waited some more. I fell asleep. Because the funniest thing happened: nothing. The floats floated and sank. Drunks imbibed and drank. People flocked and gawked. And the cops didn’t do anything except tell kids not to hurl themselves off the highway overpass (which they did anyway).

And yes, that is an open flame edging ever closer to the trees:








Whereas in the United States and other nations the National Guard would be summoned to corral, contain and eradicate the revelers, the peaceful Finns instead take the opposite tack. Instead of complaining about the trash generated by the ad hoc festival, they simply hire a fleet of dumpsters. Ambulances and medic boats idle by. Motorcycle cops roam the river banks making sure the hordes of tipsy girls are peeing in the grass and not in the middle of the bike paths.

Then everyone vanishes, leaving the riverbanks looking like an exploded carnival:







But volunteers will soon scoop up the aftermath. Because they know what summer is like in Finland: thoroughly unexciting. Finns also understand the best way to cope with hundreds of drunken youths celebrating the zenith of summer is by watching from afar and reminding themselves that in mere months all of Finland will look like this:








Though I’d personally rather give my pet polar bear an unanesthetized neutering than float down a sludgy, pissed-in and beer-stinking river, I enjoy witnessing things like Beer Float. It’s yet another reason why summer in the Republic of Finn is unlike anywhere else in the world.

Indeed, the point of summer here is that there is no point. It’s downright languorous. People take saunas and visit their cottages. Old men sunbathe beside the bike paths in pink undies or none at all. Children squish strawberries between their toes. Seagulls perch on your windowsill and belt out hour-long arias. If you want to entertain your partner with a sexy sunset dinner, you have six or seven hours in which to do so (and if you wait an hour you can cap off your date with a nice sunrise grope session.)

Of course with only a blip of quasi-darkness in the wee hours, summer is, for an insomniac such as myself, blurry and largely incoherent. And from what I gather – based on the ceaseless revving of scooters and smashing of bottles on our street – Finns generally don’t sleep much either. But that’s ok. We have winter for that. And then the drinking won’t be celebratory, but mournful, and the idea of sunburned kids on rafts will seem like nothing but a cruel, distant joke.

While the origins of San Diego’s name remain murky for some, The Nervous Breakdown is staying as classy as ever by celebrating it’s 5th birthday with TNB’s Literary Experience in San Diego, CA on Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 7 p.m.

This event, like the tasty waves rolling up to its bikini-speckled beaches, will be epic.

To commemorate this auspicious occasion, TNB is unleashing a seismic event full of outrageous readings, delicious birthday cake and a special musical guest.

WHEN: Thursday August 25, 2011. 7 p.m.

WHERE:  The Historic Ideal Hotel and Tea Room
540 3rd Ave.
San Diego, CA

 

You

By Zoe Brock

Movies

YOU are a woman.

You might not have been a woman before you started reading, but for now, you most certainly are. Have fun with it, you slut.

You are a woman.

I live with a roommate, her three kids, and their two dogs. One pooch is a shy husky and the other is a squirrely black pit bull mix. Both of them are sweethearts. The kids are in their teens. Two dudes, one chick. Total count: Five human beings and two dogs. It’s a full-house. I’ve never lived with this many people. I maxed out at four people back when I lived at home. Being an extremely private person this has taken some getting used to. Bodies thumping down the hallway. Voices laughing and arguing. Doors opening and shutting.

I hole myself up in my room, open up a book, and dive in between the pages. Or I’ll flick on the TV and watch A&E, the History Channel, ESPN. Tune in the Travel Channel for a sarcastic dose of Anthony Bourdain; the Biography Channel to look into the mad life of Ted Kaczynski. Or I’ll attempt to write something, push out a poem; take on a snappy bout with some flash fiction. Take out my guitar and see if she wants to play with me.

I was watching The Darjeeling Limited when my phone rang. It was Kim my roommate.

“Don’t be mad at me,” she said, in a gentle voice.

“What is it?”

“I’m bringing home two puppies. They’re cute, Reno. Are you mad?”

“Why would I be mad?” I said, my mind seeing cluttered images and calculating the math. Five human beings and four dogs. Nine beasts total. “Hey, no problem.”

And it wasn’t a problem. The puppies weren’t mine. They were gifts for the two oldest kids. The dogs were their responsibility. They were the ones who had to deal with the ups and downs of puppy rearing. All I knew is those little fuckers wouldn’t be pissing and shitting in my room. This I knew. Around ten minutes later Kim pulled up. I heard the puppies running around the house. Immediately after, I heard the typical demands that comes with bringing puppies into your life. Through the walls I found out their names.

“Hey! No! Stop that! Charlie!”

“Ziggy! No! Come lay down, baby! Ziggy!”

Damn, I thought. Here we go.

Then I heard shuffling and sniffing at my door. It was the husky and the pit bull. Chance and Tazz. They wanted nothing to do with the puppies and wanted in. I opened the door and they took their respective spots with agitated looks on their faces.

“What happened, fellas? Yeah, I know. This is how it works, brothers. Out with the old and in with the new. Hear me out now. I’m giving you pearls.”

Chance is as soft as they come. All he wants is pets, gourmet meals, and to sleep on the biggest fluffiest bed in the house. He’s a husky, but could give a damn about snow, the outdoors, Siberia. He has no interest in such things. He likes watching TV and staring at the refrigerator. Tazz, on the other hand, is nuts. I love his energy. He huffs and puffs, chases squirrels and lizards, makes wild sounds when he yawns and is always looking to mix it up. There’s a goat that lives behind us and Tazz is all up in its business. When I let him out he bolts to the fence and gawks at it, his amber eyes ablaze with animal desire.

“You wanna poke that goat, huh?” I asked him when we were alone. “I see that. Well, don’t worry, bro, I ain’t saying shit. Your secrets are safe with me.”

He looked at me with yes and thank you all over his mug.

After a week into the puppies keeping their owners up all night and dropping turds and leaving puddles of piss in their rooms the honeymoon was all but over. Reality set in.

“Charlie! No! You can’t have that! Charlie!

“Oh, no, Ziggy! I just took you outside! Really?”

I told Kim that we might have to call the Dog Whisperer. Give that oddball (I actually think he’s pretty cool) a ring and have him do his magic. I told Kim our conversation would go something like this:

“Hi, my name is Cesar…”

“Yeah, I know who you are. See those two babies, Millan? Good. Fix them. Their owners can’t handle them. They bark, sniff, fart, play grabass. You’ve heard this story before. OK, so I’m gonna go to the bar and get my drink on if you know what I mean. So do your thing. There’s wine and frozen taquitos in the fridge. Help yourself. You have my cell number. Call me when they’re cured.”

Kim was rolling.

“You crazy ass.”

My father always brought animals home. Be it a neurotic cat, a blind dog, or a chicken that had no visible legs. One day he brought a chicken home. He named her Henny. I called her Linda No Legs. He found her on the side of the road in the middle of the desert. She was just sitting in the sand and watching the traffic pass by. My father saw her, threw a U-turn, and brought her home.

Linda No Legs was injured and couldn’t stand, her legs tucked into her belly. He would pick her up and place her wherever he saw fit. Sometimes she’d be in the living room relaxing in a milk crate. Other times when he felt she could use some fresh air he’d put her in the backyard. She was like a duffel bag. Our two dogs were in utter confusion. They didn’t know what the fuck to think looking at a chicken sitting in front of a bowl of feed and a bowl of water. They were mystified.

I don’t know how long the picking up and laying down of Linda No legs lasted, but one day we looked out in the backyard and there she was strolling around pecking at the dirt and stretching out her wings. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. It was a miracle! The dogs were in a complete state of shock. Not only was Linda No Legs walking, but her newfound mobility cranked up her confidence and she immediately took charge of the backyard. It was hers and she let it be known. She scratched the ground with gumption, walked in and out of the dogs’ house, jumped on top of it, flexed her wings, sprinted across the yard like Carl Lewis, and corralled the dogs to the corner of the yard. It was crazy.

“Jesus,” I told my mom. “I’ve seen it all now.”

My father also brought home a blind poodle which cottoned to my mom, relieving him of the responsibilities of dealing with a dog with a major handicap.

He did pawn off two animals on me because over time he found them to be his nemeses. One was a chihuahua named Buster. I called him Boohea. He was a good-looking dog with a barrel chest and big brown eyes. But Boohea had a problem: he was a sex addict and was always sucking himself off or fucking our labrador. He’d blow himself into a frenzy and his crayon would scream out of his body throbbing under the hot desert sun. It was foul. It disgusted the whole household. And when he wasn’t in the mood to give himself a hummer he’d nip at Jet’s hind legs until he would lay down. Boohea would then mount one of his hind legs and do his thing. This also disgusted the whole household. No matter how many times we yelled and pleaded with Boohea to stop sucking his dick or to quit banging Jet he wouldn’t.

He needed therapy.

He was sick.

And he was mine.

This went on for years.

Then there was a neurotic cat named Maxine. I called her Muga. Or Muga the Sooka. My father brought Muga home for my sister who was a little girl at the time. He got her from his sister who was a crazy pill-popping, beer drinking bitch that had three equally jacked up kids. They all lived under the same roof. Muga was screwed from day one. Anybody or anything living in the droopy frazzled shadow of my aunt was doomed to a life of substance abuse, paranoia, and full-blown depression. I can’t say Muga swallowed benzos or reds or licked booze on the quiet, but she had a thing for rubber dishwashing gloves. After the first taste she was hooked and was always pawing at the cupboards for another fix.

“Why does she eat my gloves?” my mom inquired, examining some gloves that had the fingers ripped off of them.

“She was born into a dysfunctional home, mom, and there’s not a damn thing we can do,” I said reflectively. “We just have to ride it out.”

But Muga soon became my cat when she started shitting in the living room. She was particularly fond of dropping a deuce behind my father’s beloved La-Z-Boy chair. I don’t know what got into her. We always kept her crapper clean. We never neglected her. She all of a sudden went through these spurts when laying down a few dumps around the house was the thing to do. It was like a hobby of sorts. At the time my father was working graveyard and I’d hear him get up (he always woke up pissed off), thud around the house sniffing deeply, trying to locate Muga’s latest steamer. He always announced his discoveries and ended his rants by calling out my name so I could get Muga before he ended her life right then and there.

“Shit! Son of a bitch! Fuckin’, Muga! Shitass cat! Reno! Reno! Come and get your damn cat before I kill her!”

She, too, needed therapy.

She, too, was sick.

And like Boohea she was also mine.

This also went on for years.

I hope that neither Charlie nor Ziggy have a thing for their own peckers or rubber dishwashing gloves. Or acquire any hang-up for that matter. I wish for them to grow up as normal as possible. There’s a touch of craziness rattling through this house and I hope they look beyond this and move into the future with ease. I also hope that none of them gets a wild hair up their ass and think they can nip at Tazz and mount one of his legs. He already told me that he won’t play that shit.

Author’s note: This is written from a 2003/4 point of view. UK drinking laws are less restrictive these days, but we’re no better at it.

Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was spring. Around 2001, perhaps, I don’t know, I was drunk. Sprawled on a bench across the road from Mile End tube, somewhere near the yellow Tellytubby bridge with the bulging lawn on top. It was night – give me some credit, I’m not a daytime bench-sitting Special Brew enthusiast – but it wasn’t dark there on the A11. Cars swooshed by and streetlights glowed. Below the UNDERGROUND sign the station’s yellow lights, white tiles and delay notices promised warmth and the vague possibility of getting home.

Please explain what just happened.

The sun went down.Breakfast time!

What is your earliest memory?

I remember watching The A-Team and CHiPs with my brother, singing Christmas songs with my folks, spilling milk.80’s stuff, ya know?It was a strange time before Viagra, X-Files and the invention of the McFlurry.How did we survive?

 

To the Water

By Justin Daugherty

Essay

1.

The way to Hidden Beach is down, down, down. Drive out on the highway, through the endless Upper Peninsula woods full of birch and pine. There are no signs. Past Sugar Loaf Mountain, past the rocky outcrops that crowd the highway. Pull off of the highway at just the right spot, where you can finally see all the way to Lake Superior from the road. Colin will tell you when. Remove the old blanket from the trunk, the raw hamburger, the Doritos. Others take out their tents, which you don’t have. You walk a bit through those beautiful woods, the long, thin pines rising far overhead until you see it, far below. I can’t get down there, this is insane, you think. But, stop that, you can get down. You might scrape an elbow or smack your head on an uprooted tree leaning almost in line with the horizon. In fact, you will cut yourself on the way down, repelling in the mud and grass and grabbing at loose branches that fall away as you reach for them. That’s nothing, bruises and scrapes fade. Others will take the hard way to the beach, climbing down the sheer rock wall. Take your time. Admire Anna’s poise and the ease with which she moves toward the beach. Make sure each step is firmly rooted in the ground. You will shake and pull at trees and roots before you hang from them or use them to swing around to a more manageable route to the sand below. Lake Superior will guide you, will call to you, and unlike Odysseus, follow her siren song despite the danger in it. Rocks will tumble away beneath your feet, you will slip in the mud and slide down the steep decline. You will attempt to throw the blanket to the beach, it being too awkward to carry on your shoulders, and it will float and snag on an out-of-reach tree. You will curse the tree, the blanket, but be calm. Take your time. You will look back toward the car, to the highway. Smell the lake, the fresh water scent rare in Nebraska. Inhale. Look to where the land levels out, to the sand. Look at the tide as it rolls. You will make it to the beach and there will be blood. You’ll make it. Just head toward the lake.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (from galaxies that are far, far away), I worked in IT.

I supported a massive financial software system at a billion dollar company that spanned several continents and nearly thirty countries.  I was part of a large international team that was constantly fixing, configuring, and testing the accounting system and then training employees on how to use it.*

From time to time, the software manufacturer would release a bigger and better version of the software package and when that happened, the company would ask us to upgrade the financial system to the latest and greatest version.

The accounting systems of billion dollar companies are monitored and maintained with mind-melting precision.  Whenever you change the tiniest configuration in the most insignificant area of an application, you need to present incontrovertible proof that you have tested the change exhaustively and that having done so, you would wager your children’s eyeballs that in making this teensy little change, you have not fucked up everything all to hell.

To change the whole blessed system is NASA-esque in its complexity.  Such an upgrade is a multi-million dollar project that requires roughly a year of planning, testing, re-configuring, data conversions, etc.

It’s a big fucking deal.

***

The upgrade of our company’s system was an international project coordinated from our corporate headquarters on the east coast, where I worked at the time.

After a year of preparation, we were ready to “go live.”  This meant that we would turn off the company’s financial and manufacturing systems at the end of business on a Friday, and then all hands in the IT department would work around the clock and through the weekend to install the new software, configure it, move all the old data into the new system, and then test the bejesus out of it to  ensure that when our European colleagues showed up for work on Monday morning, all systems were error-free and fully-functional.

The database guys would do their thing all night Friday and all day Saturday.  When the new software was installed, it was time for my team and me to do our thing.

On Sunday morning, my two co-workers and I would march into HQ with bucket-sized coffees and boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts and we would run through a series of test scripts over the course of a few hours.  We would have a TV on somewhere so we could watch football, as the test script process was fairly mindless by this point:  “Click this button,” <check>, “Open this window,” <check>, “Enter a transaction,” <check>, etc.

But as anyone who has ever owned a computer knows, shit will always crash at the worst possible time.

***

Brian, Hammer**, and I all performed similar roles within our team, each specializing in a different area of finance.  We had worked together for a couple of years and we were sarcastic, disrespectful, profane, and apathetic.  And that was just towards the employees we were hired to support.

We arrived on Sunday morning at around nine a.m., ready to go.

The project manager greeted us with, “there’s been a little problem guys.”

He advised that late on Saturday evening, a rather significant step in the upgrade had gone quite disastrously.  He further advised that the delay in troubleshooting this issue had pushed the entire project plan back several hours.

He suggested that we go get some breakfast and be back at noon.

***

Upon arrival at the Irish pub down the street, we noticed that the Sunday brunch menu included drink specials.

“What time do you guys start serving,” asked Brian.

“Eleven,” said our waiter.

At approximately 11:00:15 a.m., the pints hit our table, and two subsequent rounds arrived in quick succession.

We were pretty comfortable in the pub, and with the beers going down like water, we decided to check in with the upgrade team and make sure they still wanted us back at noon.  Hammer called in to the office.

“What?  You’re kidding?  That’s horrible,” Hammer said into his phone while smiling and giving us a thumbs up.  “Two o’clock?  Yeah, OK, we’ll see you then.”  He hung up.

“Yeah, they’re fucked.  Let’s get another round.”

***

We finished a few more rounds and then I opted to run home to check in on my dogs.  Hammer and Brian relocated to another pub near our office, and I agreed to meet them there for one last round before we’d all go to work at two o’clock.

As I drove home from breakfast, it occurred to me that I had no business driving.

It was about 12:30 p.m.

***

When I arrived back at the pub an hour later, Hammer and Brian were steaming drunk.  The empty glasses in front of them told a story that their glassy eyes and slurs confirmed.

I had quite a bit of catching up to do.

“Hey, can we get some Jameson’s chilled over here?” I called out to the bartender before even removing my jacket and sitting down.

By the time I had satisfied myself that I was sufficiently caught up with my colleagues, we learned that while some progress on the upgrade had been made, delays persisted.  Nonetheless, we should report back to the office for a team meeting.

This would have been an appropriate time for us to order a couple baskets of fries and Cokes to sober up before returning to work.

Instead, we agreed, “yeah, we have time for one more.”

***

When we arrived back at the office, the rest of the team was gathered in a semi-circle of swivel chairs in a large, open area of the floor.  The project manager’s horrified expression indicated that he understood how we had spent our day.  Certainly the odor of booze was a strong indicator but if anyone harbored any lingering doubts, it was likely removed when Brian kicked Hammer’s ankle from behind as he walked towards a chair, sending all of Hammer’s two hundred plus pounds crashing to the floor in front of the whole team.

Our total inability to stop laughing at this seemed to somewhat irritate our sober colleagues.

We were advised that the issue would likely soon be resolved and that our testing should begin shortly.  However, the risk of failure was sufficiently high that the vice president of our department was driving in from the suburbs to receive a full briefing.  Should the upgrade fail, he would be required to face the CEO in the morning, hat in hand, to explain why millions of dollars had just been urinated out the window.  In such dire circumstances, terminations would almost certainly ensue.

Therefore our inebriation was met with some concern by both our supervisor and the project manager.

It was suggested that we get some food, in the somewhat likely event that we find ourselves in a team meeting with the vice president.

“Hey, what about the pub at the Marriott next door?” I asked.

***

Our boss was a good-natured, quiet type who generally gave us wide leeway to do our jobs, so long as we eventually got our work done.  However, in the throes of a disaster-plagued upgrade, his patience was thinner than the ice on which we were skating.

He enthusiastically discouraged us from visiting the pub at the Marriott for dinner and suggested we repair to our cubicles to come up with a better choice for dinner- preferably a place without a liquor license.

It was on the way to our cubicles that our vice president arrived on the floor, almost bumping into us.

He took one look at us, shook his head, and said, “You guys should go get some food,” before storming down the hall in search of our boss.

***

While we sat in our cubicles, trying to resolve the food dilemma, Hammer and I indulged in a name-calling contest that ended when he abruptly leapt out of his chair and dove into my cubicle, pile driving me out of my chair, onto the floor, and practically folding me in half.

It felt like my spine was going to snap and so I unleashed a torrent of screams and profanity that generally accompany particularly graphic murders.

Our boss soon careened around the corner to see what had happened.  Unbeknown to the three of us, he, the vice president, and the project manager were in the room across the hall from us, with the door open.  They had been listening to the entire incident.

He glared at us, suggesting that we find something to do that didn’t involve wrestling, and retreated back into his meeting, probably five years older.

***

As we sat in our cubicles, twiddling our thumbs waiting for our blood alcohol contents to decrease, we still had no plan for food.  Brian had been asking where we wanted to eat, but we were ignoring him.  Just because.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the huge un-potted plant fly over the wall from Brian’s cubicle into Hammer’s.  It was a volleyball-sized mass of leaves, vines, and a large clump of roots caked by about five pounds of dry soil that seemed to fly in slow motion.

When Brian inherited his cubicle, there were four potted plants hanging along the side.  These plants were likely never watered, and I doubt if anyone had ever paid attention to them.  Until then.

The plant hit Hammer’s bald head with a dusty thud, sending dirt and leaves everywhere- all over his keyboard, his desk, his clothing, and his floor.

Before I could fully process what had just happened, Hammer calmly stood up, walked over to Brian’s cubicle, removed the rack containing the remaining three plants, and hurled them at Brian, point blank.

Dried soil and profanity flew, and Brian looked like someone had just dumped a wheelbarrow full of dirt on him.  He sprung up and advanced on Hammer.

I had just jumped up and ran over to assess the disaster, when our boss again came storming out of the conference room.

“What the fuck are you guys doing?” he demanded as his final nerves unraveled.  We stood there weaving, slurring, and blaming each other.

Then, releasing his hands from Hammer’s neck, Brian, drunk as a hobo and covered in dirt, looked around and replied without a shred of irony, “You know, Chief- I can’t help but feel partially responsible for this.”

We were asked to leave the building until the executives completed their meeting.

We decided that our only viable option was the bar at the Marriott next door.

***

At ten p.m., we had yet to begin our testing, and the three of us were drinking at the hotel bar, waiting for them to call us back to work.

Suddenly our boss stormed in, pointed at the village of empty beer bottles in front of us and inquired why we were not answering our phone.  He had apparently been calling us for the better part of an hour before finally put two and two together and walking over to the nearest bar to find us.

He directed us to put our beers down and get back to the office, toute de suite.

Brian gamely offered that we’d meet him over there as soon as we finished our beers.

To say that this comment did not go over well would be a spectacular understatement.

We weaved back to the office and began working.

***

Somehow the testing was completed without further incident and the system was turned on just in time for our European colleagues to log in on Monday morning.  Despite all of the excitement, the upgrade was ultimately a success and our group was commended for our diligence and perseverance through the challenges we had endured during the weekend.

Our team even threw a party to celebrate going live.

Our boss eventually forgave us, although on his final day with the company, he admitted that the one time that he ever got really mad at us was when he had to go pull us out of the bar to do our jobs and we said we’d be over as soon as we finished our beers.

I think back on that comment from time to time and feel shitty and embarrassed about how selfish and immature we were that day.  We were disrespectful to our boss, to our colleagues, and to ourselves.  I would have to guess that most people in our shoes would have made very different choices that day- ones that didn’t involve 12 hour drinking binges, wrestling during meetings, and office vandalism.   In fact, when I look back on all the problems that occurred that day and take an honest look at my part in everything, I too can’t help but feel partially responsible.





*To this day I have very little understanding of computers, networks, servers, and the like.  Back then, I didn’t know a UNIX script from a movie script.  I could not install printers, and when people would call my desk looking for help mapping to a network drive, I would change my voice, adopt a vague foreign accent, and replied “Joe’s not here.  You call someone else,” before hanging up and going to lunch.

**Names have been changed

My Dead Friend

By Mark Sutz

Memoir

I’d like to take a moment to talk about a dead friend.

Not recently dead. And not recently a friend.

But a dead friend, nonetheless.

High school in Scottsdale in the early 80s wasn’t exactly any worse or better than I imagine it was anywhere else. It was for some the best time in their lives, for some the worst and for most, like me, just another time, not traumatic enough to scar me for life or fantastic enough for me to talk about it longingly decades later.

I was a studious type and loved the academic life and had, since I was a boy, planned on being a doctor, a plan which went the same way as: astronaut, FBI agent and race car driver. I had a decent amount of friends, most of whom shared the joy in acing a test or wrestling with a calculus problem until we figured it out. I dated a few girls, emphasis on few, and spent most of my time from sophomore year on mapping out where I wanted to go to college. I think this was perhaps the most common activity amongst my friends: figuring out where we’d begin our ‘real’ lives and how far we could get from our parents. Suffice it to say, I was as invisible as I suspect ninety percent of high school students feel and ninety-nine percent actually are. Invisibility to all but a handful of people is the common thread most of us will share from the time we’re potty trained until the time we need assisted care in old age.

Into this tightly wound crowd of ‘smart’ kids (in the years since, I have come to realize how unimportant this category is to, well, most of life), Bill entered. Atypically for our bespectacled, geeky bunch, he was as socially confident a fifteen-year old as could exist in our awestruck minds. We all knew upon first meeting him that he’d scale heights reserved for the rarefied few.

Bill was also one of those guys who was popular with every stratum of high school clique. From stoner to jock to brainiac to musician to the invisible, Bill was a guy to whom everyone was electrically attracted. Even the girls us nerds drooled over and who wouldn’t so much as walk in the same hallway as us, even those preening swans of the fakest variety, found Bill irresistible. And the schoolmarmy Spanish teacher who complained with a finger wag about Bill’s being late to class could not help but be impressed when he explained, a few times a week, the reason for his tardiness in Spanish that could have gotten him from Mexico City to Rio without a hitch. He was, overall, one of those people you meet just a few times in your life and onto which you are impelled to glom.

Bill and I became friends in that flummoxing and arbitrary way that most of us have experienced. By the end of my freshman year, I’d found the first best friend of my adolescence. High school was infinitely more bearable and less boring because of my friendship with him.

Bill was a gifted pianist and a ham the way talented people often are. He loved playing the piano and singing (great voice, too) when friends came over to his house. He knew he was good and we all did too. I don’t remember most of what he played (Beethoven and Brahms, certainly), but I do recall one song vividly – “Rocket Man.” He sang the song with such showmanship and sincerity that you’d swear Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics just for him and played the piano with a flair that Elton John would have applauded. I envied this talent of his more than his others because my own household was devoid of musicians or music lovers, a silent place livened only occasionally with whatever radio station a housekeeper listened to. I credit Bill with my first experience of tasting varieties of music, and I’ve since become a person who needs music like food and books and water and art. His impassioned, lengthy, repeated defenses of the band Yes in the face of detractors gave me quiet strength in the years since, often plucking CDs of mocked and reviled bands off the wall and playing them for friends with supreme confidence and my own defense at the ready.

Bill introduced me to near-frozen Mexican beer on scorching summer days, explained how to be cool with the girls, espoused the idea that intelligence was something to relish and not hide away, gave me the first nickname I ever had, Smarko, and taught me how good chips and extra hot salsa are when chased with tall glasses of frigid, frothy milk while watching football on TV. Burning followed by relief. This analogy to writing and stopping writing is something I think about till this day when I down a mouthful of the hot red stuff.

Bill had a laugh that wasn’t so much infectious as it was healing. When he was in the dead center of a good one, usually after telling a joke or a story himself, the world was better in that tiny piece of geography where we shared our friendship. One of the things we did was watch the A-Team together. Well, not exactly together, but at the same time. When it came on, I’d give him a call or he’d call me and in our respective houses we’d get very stoned and giggle our way through the show, repeating the hackneyed, awful dialogue to one another and laughing our stoned asses off. I have no idea how this activity started or why we both found it so amusing. Some aspects of a friendship are beyond any rational explanation.

Bill’s hyper-intelligence was his most remarkable trait. He had the capacity to fuck around as much as the committed stoners did all day, yet Bill would ace not only every class, but also every exam or quiz in those classes. He’d spoken about Harvard first when we were sophomores, not as if it would be a burden to get in or if it were an exceptionally lofty goal, but in a manner that convinced me they were just waiting for him, high school a simple formality that he’d like to be quickly done with. He spoke about it as if he’d already matriculated, graduated, time-traveled back to our conversation and felt the warmth and comfort of having an Ivy League education packed away like insurance for every version of social, financial and professional malaise a person can encounter in life.

And so it turned out that Bill was our high school’s first student admitted to Harvard. The moment he was accepted (early admission), his aura was fully confirmed and our friendship began to fizzle. I think, honestly I’m certain, it was more because of me than him, because of my envy of his acceptance there and my failure to even get a sniff at the Ivy League schools I’d been casually knocking around in conversation since I could sharpen a pencil.

My awaiting college, UC Berkeley, was all the way on the other side of the country. While nothing to sneeze at, Berkeley wasn’t, isn’t, Harvard and I could tell our trajectories would seriously diverge after high school. I suppose I was already mourning a dead friendship rather than doing what I should have been: making it stronger so it might have a chance to last.

For the last year of high school, we hung out less and less until we graduated, the summer rolled away and we were each off to our next step in life.

I didn’t last at Berkeley. Academics weren’t the issue at the time – Berkeley suited my awkward desire to exercise my brain like a Mensan. An odd loaf of financial hardship and a myopic family incapable of commonalities like communicating with other human beings kinked my plan. I’d turned down a full-ride scholarship to Arizona State, my local university, because I had the same species of ant under my feet that many kids that age have, the kind that makes you want to get away from everything you’ve ever known and start anew. But because I turned it down upon graduating high school, I was rendered ineligible for it anytime in the future.

So, I returned to Arizona, went to school after a year of moping, and led as equally an uninteresting life after high school as I’d done since I left the carnival of infancy.

Move ahead more than ten years. By 1997, I’d long since graduated college and was sliding my way toward 30. I had a girlfriend I wanted to marry, a woman who once kissed me so nicely, so perfectly, I lost consciousness for a few seconds. This woman left me giddy enough so I annoyed my friends with constant talk of her. She also led me to thinking about all the great people I’d had in my life and what they were doing.

I hadn’t seen Bill in more than a decade, but kept up with his activities through our dwindling grapevine of mutual friends that I’d see at the bars occasionally. He’d graduated Harvard in three years and returned to Arizona to go into the securities business with his father and start a few ventures of his own. One of them, oddly, was a bar. I assumed the only kind of bar Bill would own must be very classy or very cool and made a mental note to drop in and check it out sometime.

Finally, in early May of 1997, after thinking about it for months, putting it off because of my job or my girlfriend or any of a number of regular hangovers, I got the notion to call him out of the blue. We hadn’t spoken in such a long time, but I was confident that at least we’d be able to catch up over beers, perhaps revisit and restart a friendship that I’d thought about often as I bumped around my twenties. Maybe because 30 was near and because my more recent friendships seemed flimsy at the time, I wanted to rekindle one I felt was strong. I easily found a number for his brother Jeff, who’d never left Scottsdale, and called him to ask how I could get a hold of Bill.

In a monotone I’ll never forget, Jeff told me Bill had recently died. I couldn’t speak and uttered some incomprehensible gobbledygook and nearly puked. Jeff said he’d been killed in a car accident on April 15, about three weeks earlier. I was at work when I called, a denim resale shop a friend owned, and I broke down like a baby.

I cried my way through asking to go home for the day, cried my way home in the car and cried the night away on my couch, so sad, so surprised, so utterly incapable of accepting that this person, a guy of Bill’s intelligence, humor, talent and promise was dead before thirty. I fell asleep on the couch as wiped out as if I’d run a marathon or been beaten by an angry mob.

The next weekend I visited Bill’s grave. It was a clear, windless spring Arizona day. When I got to his gravestone and saw his name, the tears came again. I stood there for thirty or forty minutes thinking about our concluded friendship, not quite believing he was freshly buried beneath me. As I was getting ready to leave, a wind kicked up and a piece of paper tumbled corner over corner toward me from the edge of the otherwise pristine cemetery.

When the paper reached me, the wind stopped and it lay still at my feet. I bent over to pick it up and put it in the trash. It was a flyer for an anti-tax rally and on the bottom, in bold, was April 15, 1997, the day Bill died. It didn’t make me religious but certainly cemented the day in my head as something more than the day to send in my returns.

In the years since Bill died, I’ve often thought of him. To many, perhaps most, people who knew him he’ll always be just shy of 30. But to me, he’ll always be 18 and always be my first best friend.

Even in death, maybe especially, a friend can teach you so much. My friendship with Bill, or should I say his friendship with me, a fairly unremarkable person, was a gift that I still unwrap and learn from.

In the ensuing years, when I felt like, feel like, an asshole or nasty words for people are just behind my lips, ready to escape, I think of Bill and how he treated me: as an equal, a friend, someone to eat salsa with and someone just to get to know. I’m far from the most tolerant person on the planet, but my friendship with Bill reminds me, even when I’m in a lousy mood, that good friends are better than good jobs or good trips or lots of money or any of the other things that are stand-ins for what life really is about. My friendship with Bill helped strengthen in me the shapeless, nameless muscle one needs to nurture friendships and it has served me well. I’ve become a better friend to others (though far from perfect), keenly sympathetic and kind to the oddball in all of us, and a more compassionate person in general than I ever would have had our paths not crossed.

He lives with me and will until the day I die, always extant in the architecture of my personality, as are many dozens, hundreds, of other people also in that structure. Bill provides, however, along with only three other people in my life, the most important part: a certain, solid foundation buried beneath the skyscraper that I feel like I am some days and the hovel I feel like on the rest, both of which are invisible to most save a vital few.

The line at airport security snakes back and forth like a mountain switchback. I figure the wait will consume at least fifteen minutes. I haven’t flown in a while and I don’t realize these days you have to strip naked and stand spread-eagled in front of the Star Trek transporter. To fight the boredom I look around at my fellow travelers, a varied lot that has conspired to be in this place at this time, bound together by our common desire to fly out of Tulsa on a Thursday morning in July.