Pretty

By Wendy C. Ortiz

Essay

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 5.25.14 PM

This is a pretty essay.

In the beginning, the word was chula. Que chula was cooed and gasped at me. My mother and grandmother fawned over me with these words, as though they were astonished by me every time they said it.

I went to kindergarten believing I was a princess, enough to quarrel with Debbie Holly. She, too, believed she was a princess. Together we believed we were, each of us, pretty. But there could only be one princess, the prettiest one of all.

Grown-Up Words

By Bethany Cox

Essay

blackboard-thinking-of-love

His name was Jeremiah and he was in my preschool class. He was five years old, tall for his age. His parents were divorced and he had an older brother, which meant he knew words like ass and hell. Once he accused me of saying the f word during story time.

“I said fox, Jeremiah.”

“It sure sounded like fuck,” he countered.

dec 006 hShit, we’re late. I gun the green light. I shouldn’t be rushing.

“Shoot, we’re late!” I call to my daughters in the backseat.

Ah, what does it matter if we’re late (again), I rationalize to myself. It’s only a swimming lesson.

“Oh no!” my older daughter, Julie, says.

“It’s going to be okay,” I reassure.

“But it’s a swimming lesson!”

“We’ll get there.”

Gravity

By Mag Gabbert

Essay

When I was nine years old my Gran and I took a cruise to Norway. We stayed in the Presidential Suite, which was the biggest suite on board. It was bigger than my Mom’s house. It had fountains, and mirrors, and balconies spread out over five different rooms. It had Tiffany blue carpet and thick, cream-colored down comforters. Gran said she didn’t want us to stop traveling just because Granddad was gone. Gran had survived a brain tumor that year, and her mother and husband had died within just a week of each other—Granddad was only sixty-four. I’d lived through a life-threatening heart virus that year, and watched my dog get run over.

Samantha: hi, you’re there?

 

Robin: Yep — hi, sweets

 

‪Samantha: hi. ready for a gchat self-interview?

 

Ally McBeal vs. Liz Lemon

 

Robin:

Career deadlines, marriage deadlines, parenthood deadlines— all the internal deadlines for adult milestones have gotten later since the Baby Boomers’ day. Traditionally, five milestones have been used to define adulthood— completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a first child. Millennials pass through all the Big Five, on average, about five years later than Baby Boomers did. It’s become a feedback loop: as the milestones are commonly achieved deeper into post-adolescence, cultural expectations shift even further back.

Today’s young people don’t expect to marry until their late twenties, don’t expect to start a family until their thirties, don’t expect to be on an actual career track until much later than their parents were. So they make decisions about their futures that reflect this wider time frame. Many would not be ready to take on the trappings of adulthood any earlier even if the opportunity arose; they haven’t braced themselves for it.


 

“We need to talk,” said my mom. I was 14, and this could have meant any number of ominous things. We’d had many “talks” over the years, most of them related to my adolescent misbehavior, which arrived at 12 in particularly worrying form.

We sat together at our breakfast counter, she with a mug of Bengal spice tea, me with a glass of OJ. My mother was, and is, a very pretty woman, with bright blue eyes, skyscraper cheekbones, and an easy laugh. She sipped her tea and took a breath.

“Karen and I aren’t just friends, honey.” Her features tightened, but her eyes met mine, clear and steady. “We’re more than friends.”

In kindergarten, I accessorized my “Save The Planet” t-shirt collection and kelly green stirrup leggings with a Fisher Price doctor’s bag. I was going to be a doctor, probably a heart surgeon.  My delighted parents added kindling to the dream by providing me with doctor stuff to play with – a subscription to the Time-Life Science Library, a chem set, and best of all, in fourth grade, a projection microscope.

 

When I was a freshman in college, I wrote an essay for a writing class wherein I described myself as being a “girl.”  I was eighteen years old, a burgeoning writer, naïve in many ways but generally adept at language. The word seemed precise, if not necessarily inspired. My professor, a white man in his late twenties, whom I have slightly more empathy towards now that I am in my late twenties, pulled me aside and told me he was uncomfortable with my usage. “Girl” evoked a kind of innocence and vulnerability he thought it best I distance myself from as a young woman in a university.  The word was x’d out in red pen and “woman” was squiggled definitively on top.

Years ago, when she was around my current age, my mother went to Mexico and was robbed.  She had just been granted American citizenship, so it was very important that she was able to find her papers.  The story has been passed down to me since puberty, as a word of caution for a woman entering the world: freedom is a risk.

For many years, I went out of my way to feel embittered and surly at Christmas, refusing to live in the moment, opting instead to wallow in memories of lonely Christmases past. Looking back, though, I’ve never actually been alone. The memories I wallow in are false.  They’re little stories, truncated and manipulated versions of reality, created by me.  They make it easier to share my past experiences with others and to convey a version of myself that best fits into—maybe not how I saw myself at the time, but how I want people to understand my past.

For a long time, I held tightly to the memory of the Christmas sixteen years ago when I was nineteen, pregnant with a baby I was going to put up for adoption, and homeless. Truth be told, I’ve never spent a night outdoors except when camping. I’ve never spent a night starving. I’ve never really been homeless. This fact, however, doesn’t fit into the story I’ve told about me.  It serves to make my bitterness justified—yet it no longer feels authentic or serves the new narrative I’d rather tell.  I realized recently that I’ve built an identity around myself that no longer fits into my current understanding of who I am.  It’s not who I want to be anymore.

Moonscape

By Siri Z. Müller

Essay

Moonscape. Something died all over them, they ran and scattered, and I watched from a distance, between work, between papers that were not falling from the sky, but sitting blankly under my hands. So much dust, roiling. I was transfixed to screens in conference rooms I actually had not even known previously existed. I felt the dark, cool mahogany. I am sure it was actual mahogany. The leather below me was taut and expensive. My shoes were cold. I tried to ground myself there, to gawk, to feel, as if the observation of a thing could expand the knowing of it, but the tether was tight; in an unusual act of compassion, my boss commanded me to continue working. To not think about it, to simply go on, though clearly she did not expect much actual work from me. It was shocking, but it was not wrong, I could not deny her logic, at least not in that moment. I did not know where I was, really. I do not now know where everyone else was, exactly, why I had to stay. Maybe because nobody waited for me at the home I had alone, though my family advised me, in all seriousness, to begin walking towards Boston.

Greetings, TNB readers and Book Club members!

This month’s TNB Book Club selection is Jessica Anya Blau’s Drinking Closer to Home.




The Harper Collins website briefly describes the novel this way: “They say you can never really go home again. Adult siblings Anna, Portia, and Emery are about to discover just how true that is.

From Jessica Anya Blau…comes a new novel of California, growing up, and learning to love your insane family. Perfect for fans of Jess Walter, Kevin Wilson, and Michael Chabon, Drinking Closer to Home is a poignant and funny exploration of one family’s over-the-top eccentricities…”

Drinking Closer to Home has been described as “heartfelt and hilarious.”

What do you think?

Elise was new in the seventh grade. She was beyond nerdy. She wore little wire-framed glasses and braided barrettes (so elementary school). She favored white turtlenecks dotted with tiny strawberries; she always got straight A’s.

I used to get straight A’s. In elementary school, good grades were effortless, but in junior high, my A’s turned into B’s, then C’s, especially in math. I only did well in Composition, where we wrote stories and poems. My mother took away my radio and Olivia Newton-John tapes till my report card improved.

When you got straight A’s, you got a certificate that said Outstanding Achievement, signed by the principal. I had yet to get one, but Elise got one every time.

“That’s disgusting,” I said to her once, spotting the certificate on her desk.

She scrunched up her librarian face. “What?” she said.

I had been trying to make a joke. “Getting all A’s. It’s really disgusting you know.”

“Huh?”

I sighed. “Forget it.” What a nerd.

Since the first grade I had been friends with Susan, who wasn’t a nerd but was very smart. My father said she’d probably be a lawyer. Since the fifth grade, I had known Marie and Lauren. Marie had long curling brown hair and huge eyes; Lauren was blond, tall, and rather chubby. She played Dorothy in our fourth grade production of The Wizard of Oz.  People still talked about how well she sang “Over the Rainbow.”

It was Lauren who made friends with Elise first. I don’t even know how. Lauren was always making friends with new, seemingly quiet girls, and bringing them over to our group, like stray kittens. Aside from Elise, she had also brought over Marie V. (now the original Marie would forever be known as Marie R.), darkly beautiful, and Andi, who at 5’10” would later become a model.

By eighth grade, Elise had changed completely. She wore contacts now and had cut her hair into a cute bob. She had gotten ridden of the turtlenecks and upgraded her wardrobe to 1985. Big shirts, long sweaters, and oversized pearls. Gone was the mousy grind who didn’t get my sarcastic humor. In her place was a tall and willowy ballet dancer, a navy brat who had lived in Italy and Hong Kong, a wannabe writer like me.

I turned fourteen that April. For my birthday, we went swimming at the Y, then to my house, where we gorged ourselves on cake and my mother’s fried noodles, egg rolls, and wontons. After my parents left for an all-night mah-jongg party, we went wild – dancing, screaming for no reason, doing obnoxious imitations of our teachers and classmates.

Elise had come straight from ballet, and still had on her leotard and tights under her clothes. Overheated, she stripped off her jeans and ran pantless through the house. (Why she didn’t just take off her tights, I don’t know.) I have a photo of her in mid-run, giant sweater half-off one shoulder, a goofy smile on her face.

That was the last time I was happy. While my friends blossomed, I stayed the same. One minute Laura was in sweatshirts and jeans, her dark blond hair limp against her head, the next she was in tight sweaters and skirts, a chic short cut freeing her face. She wasn’t chubby anymore but voluptuous. Random guys stopped her in hallway. “Your legs go on for miles!” one said. “You’re so cute!” another remarked, pinching her cheek.

No one pinched my cheek except my first grade teacher when I ran into her at TJ Maxx. You could barely see my face for the glasses and braces. My legs didn’t go on for miles, which Elise was kind enough to point out at a pool party.

“I didn’t know your legs were so short!” she cried, stretching her lanky ballerina gams out to the sun.

I grew to hate my stubby limbs, round face, and small eyes. One of just a handful of Asian kids in town, I wished I were Italian, French, or Irish. I longed for big green eyes and a pert narrow nose, a quiet mother who didn’t yell out the door in Chinese, a name that didn’t sound like a body part.

The more insecure I grew, the less I spoke. The less I spoke, the cooler I thought I might be. At lunch I did math homework instead of joining the conversation. On car rides to and from the mall – where boys always eyed Lauren and Elise, never me – I stared silently out the window while everyone else chattered and sang along with Crowded House, Bon Jovi, and Madonna.

But instead of being cool, I became forgotten, like the night of the eighth grade dance when Lauren and the others neglected to pick me up. It was a misunderstanding, Lauren said, hugging me when I finally showed up. They had thought I was meeting them there. But I didn’t know that while I waited, sobbing, in my room.

Ninth grade was worse. There were even more boys to ignore me and hit on Elise, Lauren, and Marie V. One was a junior who sat behind me in algebra II.

“Hey,” he kept whispering to me one day. “Hey.”

I knew he wanted to ask me about Marie V., who had a crush on him. Bu I pretended not to hear him, too shy to talk to most boys.

When I continued not to answer, he switched his tactic. “Hey, ching chong,” he said instead. “Ching chong ching chong.” Face burning, I kept ignoring him, as I did the kids at the bus stop when I was younger.

Suddenly the teacher stopped mid-lecture. “Scott,” she said, eyes burning, finger pointing. “Get out of my classroom. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Chagrined, Scott picked up his books and left.

I didn’t feel grateful to the teacher, only embarrassed that she had heard.

* * *

That winter my father got a new job in a nearby town. He could commute, but my mother wanted a new house. We sold our old one – to the high school principal, of all people – and moved that summer.

I was excited. I’d be at a new school. I could be whomever I wanted – popular, athletic, student body president.

None of these things happened. At first I made friends with a couple of popular girls who were also new, but once they understood their standing, dropped me like last year’s jeans. But that mattered less at this school. What mattered was that I wasn’t the only Chinese girl. Far from it. Almost a quarter of the students were Asian, the children of immigrants. Having parents who spoke with an accent wasn’t weird; in fact some of the kids had accents themselves.

Boys looked at me. My braces and glasses were gone, and I felt more comfortable in my new preppy outfits. Was I – pretty? Dan Wagner thought so, and Ron Jones, but still skittish, I never said two words to them.

Later that same year, Lauren moved too. Texas. Unlike me, she was sad. She cried at school; she begged her parents not to move, but it had been decided.

After Lauren left, the group began to fall apart. We still saw each other sometimes, but mostly when Lauren visited. She had an older boyfriend who she lost her virginity to and who’d later kill himself. I couldn’t imagine such a thing. I hadn’t even been kissed yet.

Junior year, Elise suddenly decided she was a painter. I was surprised. In art classes, she had always struggled, or pretended to. Now she was producing picture after picture. I remember one: a woman with long tangled hair, painted in shades of blue. The word “blue” appeared throughout, in her locks, her lips, her arms folded over her bare breasts. Elise became so engrossed in painting, she switched to an arts high school in another town. She took photographs and started making films, often casting Andi in the lead.

Towards the end of high school, Susan and Elise stopped talking. I was never sure why. Perhaps Susan hadn’t liked the way Elise was behaving with her new artist friends; maybe Elise was tired of Susan’s judgments. Senior year, all three of us ran into each other at a piano recital. Susan and I had been taking lessons from the same teacher all those years, along with Elise’s sister. I talked to Elise and Susan separately while they gave each other cold looks above my head.

Once we all went away to college, I lost touch with everyone except Marie R., with whom I exchanged letters occasionally. From her I knew that Lauren was going to school in Dallas, Marie V. at Bucknell, and Andi at Baylor (later her whole family would move to Texas and become born-again Christians). Susan was at Harvard – studying archaeology, not law – and Elise was at NYU. Over the summers, she modeled.

I was in New York too, a hundred blocks north of Elise, but I never thought of contacting her. It had been too long. I called Marie R. once while she was still at NJIT earning her architecture degree, but the conversation was stilted. She didn’t seem interested in talking to me, and asked someone in the room for an exacto knife. That was the last time I talked to her, that I talked to any of them.

* * *

In the last decade, I’ve done my fair share of Googling my old friends. I know that Susan is a renowned archaeologist, and Marie R. a successful architect. Marie V. may live in London. Andi is married with kids, as is Lauren.

For a long time I couldn’t find anything on Elise. Surely she’d be famous soon – a filmmaker, a painter, a dancer, a writer. Whatever she wanted to be, surely she’d be.

Finally on a hot summer night in 2006, I found something.

By then I was divorced and living on my own in Manhattan. When I wasn’t dating disappointing men, I hid in my apartment, trying to write and surfing the internet.

I found it in a local paper in Virginia. Elise O’Connor Warren, 33, homemaker, died July 2 at her residence.

Elise? Dead?

Was is the same Elise? The age was right – she was a year younger than the rest of us – but her name wasn’t uncommon. Then I recognized her parents’ names and her sister’s.

Elise, dead. She is survived by her husband, Jeffrey Warren; children Isabel, George and Molly. Shocked I called home.

My father answered.

“Remember Elise?” I said. “My friend from my old school?”

“Elise,” he murmured. “I remember Susan.”

Of course he did. I’d known Susan since I was six. “Elise,” I pressed. I needed him to remember. “She was a ballerina. She came to our house.” She ran through it with no pants on.

“Maybe. Mom would remember. But she’s not here.”

“Elise died.”

“Oh no,” my father said, trying to sound aggrieved. But he couldn’t remember her.

The item didn’t say how she died, nor did a church newsletter I found. I called the church. A secretary told me it was cancer. I didn’t ask what kind.

“So many of her old friends have been calling,” the secretary said.

Elise O’Connor Warren, 33, homemaker, died July 2 at her residence. There was so much to reconcile. Elise dead, Elise a homemaker. It was shallow – after all, her husband was without a wife, their small children without a mother – but I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Elise O’Connor Warren, homemaker, not world-famous director, best-selling novelist, or genius painter.

Somewhere along the way, she had decided to shed her skin again. Enough with being an artist, she had thought. Enough with modeling and hobnobbing with celebrities in Manhattan. I want to marry this man and live in Virginia and have three kids before I’m 30.

I was 34 then and nowhere near having even one kid. I didn’t know if I’d ever have any. Was I that different from who I was back then? I was still shy and still wanted to be a writer. I was less awkward and more confident. I was proud of my Chinese self. The shedding and growing of my new skin took much longer than it did for Elise.

Almost twenty-five years have passed since we were friends. I don’t know if I’d recognize any of them, or if they even remember me. I don’t know if I have a right to grieve for Elise. But when I saw Elise O’Connor Warren, 33, died, it was as though I did know her, had never stopped knowing her, and we were who were back then again, laughing and running wild.

Before I moved to Madrid, I engaged in a series of heated discussions about where I should work after failing miserably at a number of low-paying jobs (My father, a professor of Chinese History, even resorted to utilizing the ancient hexagrams of the I-Ching in an attempt to new-age me into employment), I ended up applying for work at Bookstop, a large bookstore, coffee shop and hipster hang-out in the Montrose area of Houston. I had to wear a nametag, a sure sign you are about to embark on a shitty occupation.

I was put under the tutelage of a 21-year-old assistant-manager named Travis. Travis was completely bald, bitter about it, and determined to make manager “before the summer was out.” A large portion of the managerial promotion process hinged on your ability to tutor the new kids, the cashiers, the foot soldiers—in other words, the kids who didn’t care—myself and a black kid from Atlanta named Greg. My first day at work proved a relatively accurate augur of what was to come. I dutifully showed up 15 minutes before Bookstop opened (it is crucial to make a good impression on your first day of work—then you can shit the proverbial bed and it takes longer for people to notice, as people tend to hold to first impressions as a condemned inmate at San Quentin might hold his/her breath once the cyanide gas starts filtering through the vents. There’s no such thing as hopelessness!). Greg had been given the same advice, as I encountered him smoking a blunt in the parking lot on my way to the store, a converted old movie theater.

“Hey, man,” Greg chortled through thick smoke.

“Hi,” I said.

“You have a name tag—are you working here, too?”

“Yeah, it’s my first day,” I said.

“Me, too. You want to hit this bitch?”

“I shouldn’t. It’s our first day. Okay.”

“My nigga!” he said, as I took a substantial drag off of the blunt. I felt pretty proud to be called a nigga and thought about how desperately white people long to be liked by black people. It’s almost an epidemic. Anyone who says differently is lying, or mostly lying. Even white supremacists. Have you heard any white supremacist rappers? I have. The content is nauseating, but their flow is undoubtedly referential, probably to Boogie Down Productions if not Public Enemy. They just flipped the script.

Greg and I were ushered around the store by Travis. He explained something about ISBN numbers and their utility, then droned on about his self-published sci-fi novel that, once he became manager, he could insinuate into the aisles of Bookstop.

“Your book have robots in it, Travis,” asked Greg, laconically, stonedly.

“There are androids, yes,” Travis responded proudly.

“Robots can eat a dick,” offered Greg, foolishly.

“I wouldn’t expect either of you two to even remotely begin to understand the complex time/space signatures in my book and I’ll have you know, Greg, Tyler, that I can make your life extremely difficult here if you aren’t cooperative.”

“That’s bullshit, bitch,” said Greg, accurately. Greg nor I had any allegiance to the Bookstop and were both fairly intent on getting fired or quitting as soon as we had put in the requisite time to convince the parents-that-be we were responsible. Travis often tried to make our lives miserable, but it’s hard to find us when I’ve locked myself in the service elevator with a margarita and a crossword puzzle book and Greg is in his car, balling the coffee shop barrista.

James had been a friend of mine since high school and a frequent visitor to Bookstop. His stepmom had just opened an upscale jewelry and accoutrement salon down the street from the bookstore, and in her store was a margarita machine for the upscale browser (I always thought this was a good idea; I’ll buy almost anything when I’m drunk). James would help out around his stepmom’s store for a bit, then shuttle a thermos full of margarita over to me at Bookstop. We’d chat a bit, decide on evening plans, then he’d retreat back to the store as I would grab a stack of Tom Robbins and adjourn to my perch in the freight elevator. The arrangement usually worked fine, as both Greg and I would cover for each other.

Inevitably, Greg was caught balling the barrista and fired, something that put a damper on my afternoons with crossword puzzles and a half-gallon of frozen margaritas. And while with Greg’s departure the efficiency of the Bookstop machine received an unprecedented spike in productivity, my patience for the working life—at least the working at Bookstop life—ebbed dramatically.

When he wasn’t helping out at his stepmom’s store, James had the luxury of doing nothing. Well, not nothing, exactly. He was a BBQing machine. Every day by his parent’s pool, he’d throw heaps of flesh on the grill and he and a menagerie of other summer loafers would drink beer, play guitars, eat heartily and laze around the pool until everyone passed out or didn’t. It was a kind of life I’ve always aspired to, and felt I was missing a wonderful opportunity to idle around in the prime of my youth, like somebody out of Fitzgerald or at least somebody not wandering drunk around a bookstore all day.

I began, as has been the case with most if not all of my ill-fated employment endeavors to fall ill, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays—prime BBQing time.

“Uh, hi Travis. It’s Tyler. Look, I don’t know what I have. I’ve been throwing up all morning and I’ve got a fever and my head hurts and there’s a chance I may have spinal meningitis and so I’m going to stay home today.”

“Spinal meningitis? Are you going to the doctor?”

“No, I think I’m just going to try to ride it out.”

“That’s a terrible idea. You sound fine.”

“Are you saying I’m not sick?”

“Maybe. Are you not?”

“Of course I am.”

“Tyler, do you like your job?”

“Yes. I mean why? Is that some kind of threat?”

“It’s not a threat.”

“Good Christ, Travis, I feel like you’re giving me a hard time. How many times have I called in sick? It’s not like it happens all the time.”

“You’ve called in sick four times in the last two weeks. You get sick on weekends, it seems to me.”

“Well, damnit Travis. I can’t work in an environment where there’s this kind of lack of trust. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“I’m not. So are you quitting?” I thought for a moment how I would storm back into work, not giving Travis the pleasure of being done with me. I would make it to assistant manager by the end of the summer and then overtake the bald, wretched, wanton Travis as manager, overseeing his daily routine and making his life a living hell for the rest of his days at the Bookstop.

“Yeah, I think I’m quitting,” I said, knowing the aforementioned scenario was untenable and devoid of BBQ and good times. I hung up the phone, euphoric, then headed over to James’ house. Of course, I foresaw trouble in paradise, as my parents would be completely averse to the trajectory I’d chosen for myself this summer.

So, I woke up every morning at 7:30, put on my work clothes: tie, nametag, khakis and Oxford button-down and left for work. However, in this instance, work was located five blocks away at James house, where upon arrival, I’d go back to sleep on his family’s sofa until around 1:00 or 2:00, when the BBQ preparations would begin. This arrangement proved infinitely more suitable and I decided that if times ever got really tough, I could make a living by a pool, eating BBQ. I wasn’t sure from where my income would stem, but the dream must come first. The reality will inevitably fall into place, somehow.

I enjoyed travel, as anybody who never travels says they enjoy travel, but the idea of going abroad again never really drifted through my transom. The summer coming to a close, Bookstop out of the picture and a couple of parents eager to see their son do something, I found myself at an Irish pub, Kennealy’s, with James.

James and I have, since early in our friendship, been convinced that we should be famous actors. Not just actors—famous actors. Every week, James and I would sit in the brackish pub, he drinking Guinness, I drinking whiskey, and discuss how colossally talented, funny, good looking and charming we were and how it was a real shame we hadn’t yet been discovered by Hollywood. We were somewhat in awe of the fact that some director/producer had yet to approach us, telling us how talented, funny, good looking and charming we both were and wouldn’t we like to star opposite Charlize Theron in the next summer blockbuster?

“I think we should probably move to LA,” I said.

“That’s a cliché. Houston is as good a place as any for us. Patience, Tyler.”

“It’s not happening for us here, dude.”

“It just takes patience. Look, did you know Matthew McConaughey met Linklater in a bar and next thing you know—BANG—he’s in Dazed and Confused.”

“Did you know Brad Pitt used to dress up like a chicken and sit in the middle of the street—Hollywood Boulevard, I think. He got discovered that way. Same with Liz Taylor,” I added.

“She dressed up like a chicken?” James asked.

“No, well, I don’t think so—maybe they found her at a mall.”

“I’m better looking than Liam Neeson,” I ventured.

“People say I look like Sean Penn.”

“You do, a little,” I lied. “You’re like Sean Penn if you were a forward for the Celtics.”

“Is it because I have a big nose?”

“Not just that. You have screen presence,” I offered, with no basis in reality.

“Thanks, man. You mean that?”

“I totally mean that.”

“Maybe we should take acting classes.”

“That’s bullshit. I think you either have it or you don’t. Brother we have it.”

“I know we do, but we need a foot in the door.” James could be so negative sometimes.

“You can only be so talented. Then you need luck,” I said, optimistically.

“Are we just unlucky?”

“Yeah, I mean I guess so, so far.”

“Did you apply for grad schools again?”

“No,” I lied again, having been rejected by everywhere. “Let’s go abroad.”

“Fuck off! Are you serious?”

“Yeah, to Madrid. I know the city.” I spent a year abroad as an undergraduate in Madrid. The junior year thing. I didn’t know the city—that too was a lie. Once I ate a meter of albondigas sandwiches at the Subway by Retiro Park, though. Albondigas means “meatballs” in Spanish. It was, and is, my favorite Spanish word. “Plus, Almodovar is there. We should go. You know I met him once”

“Is he Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown?”

“Yep. He hit on me in a club.”

“How do you say ‘boner’ in Spanish,” James asked.

“Vergadura.”

“You gave Almodovar a vergadura.”

“Maybe.”

“What’s bienvenidos? I saw that on a welcome mat. Does that mean ‘welcome?’”

“That’s also boner.”

“I’m bullish on this idea, T. What about Bookstop?”

Dr. C, the owner of Bookstop, called me and asked me to come in. Travis hadn’t told him I’d quit. I felt bad. I didn’t want to have to deal with Dr. C. I liked Dr. C, and I felt terribly guilty for not tendering my resignation to his face. And fuck you, Travis. Happy fuckday to you. I hate awkward situations, especially when they involve speaking with people I’ve let down. I thought drugs would make it easier. After age 22 or so, it’s embarrassing to admit doing acid. But, I admit.

After staring at an issue of the inexplicably pink Financial Times for what seemed a minor eternity, Dr. C. ushered me into his office. Now, I’ve never “seen” anything on drugs, like some people have claimed. I’ve never seen the Led Zeppelin blimp carrying a banner that read, “Hasta La Victoria Siempre” or a swimming pool full of Draculas or the face of Heinrich Himmler in a pepperoni pizza. But Dr. C was undulating, changing form, then his features would scramble back into place. It was as if he were an image conjured up like a human Etch-a-Sketch, then shaken, then drawn anew. It didn’t help that Dr. C. had a missing eye and would occasionally, like on this occasion, refuse to wear his eye-patch. I liked him for this “fuck you” to all the staring half-wits, the insensitive cavepeople who would incessantly gaze into his oozing socket. But now, no good. Once you’ve made up your mind not to look at something, you’re tanked. And I admit.

I’m no good with “psychedelic” drugs like mushrooms and acid and that kind of stuff. I hate when people I’m around are on them and I hate to be on them. I’ve always thought of myself as someone hanging from a pretty thin thread, and all this psychedelia bilge tugs at that thread like an angry cat. I also find myself on the tail end of these “trips” sitting on a toilet somewhere trying to crap out my soul. But for some reason I have taken a lot of them. And I took a lot of them before I walked into Dr. C’s office wearing a “cape” fashioned out of a large trash bag, then started blabbering and eventually weeping about United Fruit, neocolonialism and all the trouble that “my opportunist cocksucker ancestors” had inflicted on Latin America.

“Tyler, United Fruit went out of business in the 1970s.”

“But think of all the damage they did, Dr. C, man. Think of Rigoberta Menchu!”

“That wasn’t United Fruit. I think that was a civil war in Guatemala. And what is that thing you’re wearing? Is that a trash bag?”

“It’s more of a cloak, actually. Look, I know you’re probably thinking you want to peel the skin off my face because you went through it all there in Guatemala, you know.”

“What are you talking about, Tyler? Are you okay? You look sweaty. Did you want to come in here just to talk about United Fruit. If you did, that’s fine, it’s just…”

“Oh, man. You’re from Mexico, aren’t you? Jesus Christ! I just want to say that I’m sorry. I don’t think that, you know, Guatemala and Mexico is the same thing. Cultural identity is so very, very important, especially in a growing global community. I know there are a lot of people here who think that way…I like the word “globe,” you know the way it sounds when it comes out of your mouth and then goes into the air. Do you know the song “Dark Globe,” by Syd Barett?”

“Syd who? Tyler, are you doing okay?”

“Not so great, Dr. C,” I managed to drool out, conscious that I was now on drugs, aware that I was on drugs and aware that people usually get paranoid when they’re aware they’re on drugs and that this feeling will never ever ever go away and I’m insane forever.

“What’s the problem,” he asked in his avuncular way. I had always liked Dr. C and I wanted to choose my words carefully, not insult him, not insult the institution of Bookstop.

“I’m in a pretty fucked-up dance here, Dr. C as in cottage cheese. That’s two c’s, isn’t it?

“Excuse me?” Dr. C asked, naturally.

“I meant what?”

“What?”

“Tyler, are you okay?”

“I need to get out of here.”

“Out of my office?”

“Out of everything. I want to withdraw.”

“Well, Tyler, I’m sorry to hear that. What’s the problem?”

“I just don’t fit in here?”

“Here at Bookstop?”

“Yeah, I guess. And my own skin. It feels tight.”

“Is that a metaphor?” he asked. Dr. C. loved metaphors. He had a PhD in English and used to teach at an impressive university. But, he found that he liked books more than he liked people, so he bought a bookstore. Made sense to me.

“I’m afraid not.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that, Tyler. You know you can always come back.”

“Thank you, Dr. C.”

“Tyler, take care of yourself.”

“I’ll try.”

I left work and headed back to my apartment where I had every intention of lying in a ball, drinking whiskey and listening to George Jones. I opened the door to 211 and was greeted by my roommate Tod, some of his friends, Lance Berkman, all-star first baseman for the Houston Astros, and his roommate Dave, who was standing in his underwear strumming a bass plugged into an unplugged amplifier. We all lived in the same apartment complex.

“Whoa. Dave. Nice bass guitar.“

It’s not a bass guitar—it’s a space guitar.” Dave gave me the drugs, earlier.

“Nice.”

“So nice,” Dave said, strumming his incomprehensible melody.

Dave and Lance made an interesting pair. Lance, for all I know, never did drugs (although not afraid to partake of my whiskey from time to time), was a good Christian boy and could hit a baseball farther than anyone I’ve ever seen, or at least anyone who I’ve ever been in a room on acid with. Dave, on the other hand, was enamored with Frank Zappa and any psychedelic concoction he could get his hands on. But they were often together and were, from all I could tell, extraordinarily good friends. Lance was sitting on our sofa, dipping Copenhagen and Dave stopped playing the space guitar for a moment and asked, “What’s up, man?”

“I’m dropping out.”

“Me too, dude!”

“No, I mean I’m dropping out of America.”

“Nice.”

“Why?” asked Lance Berkman.

“My skin is tight. Does it feel better to hit a home run right-handed or left-handed?”

“Right handed. Look, I’ve got to get going, y’all,” Lance said a little urgently. “Tyler, we’ll see you around, right?”

“Yeah, you’ll se me around.” Lance left the room, Tod and his guys had set up shop in the common room, reading the sheet music to Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma and Dave remained strumming his space guitar, alone in his own mostly nude world. I grabbed the bottle of whiskey, went to my room, curled up in a ball and listened to George Jones for the next four hours until I was finally overcome with sleep.