@


15-views-v2-cover“As literary writers…we’re not supposed to just get the job done, we’re supposed to advance the conversation, and part of our challenge is to dig deeper and create something new, or at least approach an existing thing (such as setting) from a unique angle. Yes, our writing relies on social norms and cultural touchstones, but where genre writers tend to follow the old wrinkled tourist map, literary writers explore new territory.”

— Ryan Rivas

Real Mammal

By Caroll Sun Yang

Essay

He snorts Ritalin all night and chases down the white dust with Old Fashioned Sidecars. He asks me to take pictures of him wearing my sheer black panties with striped ruffles and pink-lemonade colored ribbons laced through. He asks me to do this with my cellular phone so that I might later “text” him the “good ones”. He says has plans to save them for some later date, maybe for use as “jack-off material”. I am reluctant at first. A smidgen hurt at the thought of being replaced as his masturbatory focus. I try not to let my face show disinterest in this project, a disinterest verging on disdain. What will be achieved by this activity? He is not gay. He is not usually prone to high narcissism. He is infrequently frivolous. In fact, he harbors contempt for operatic displays. But here he is cut a little loose on pills and Cognac, retrieving my makeup bag and hand mirror.

 

“The drugs!  Ditch the drugs!  He’s coming!”

When Pete doesn’t immediately comply with my frenzied request to jettison the narcotics I grab his backpack and attempt to throw it into the brackish water.

“Take it easy man,” he says, wrestling the bag away from me. “We’re gonna be fine.”

Stanton has no reaction. He silently and expressionlessly pilots the boat from his position in the back.

Seized by terror I pull my knees into my chest, bury my face between them, and tell myself that if I don’t look at the boat creeping ever closer this nightmare will somehow end.

 

I.

I Live in a Seaside Motel

I live in a seaside motel. On nights that the ocean is lively I can lie in bed and hear it murmur midnight elegies. When I’m having trouble sleeping the sounds of the sea’s salty breath draws me out into the darkness with my miner’s torch atop my head. I cross Route 1A, scramble over the Army Corps of Engineer-constructed berm and stand before the Atlantic.

The ocean during the day inspires thoughts of nature’s majesty and human frailty. This does not change at night, but the darkness lends a sense that the massive, writhing body of water is sinister.

After I’ve stood for a spell and looked out over the black expanse I turn and walk back to the Pebble Cove Motel. Every time, as I scramble back over the berm and my feet touch concrete, I begin to run, as if unseen enemies are giving chase. The ocean’s booming and roaring seems mocking, telling me to go back to my little box and carry on being a silly human. In obeisance, I slip back into room 3 and lock the door behind me.

II.

A Modern American Family

When I tell people that I live in a motel, they typically react in one of two ways. They either say something like, “Don’t you get lonely?” or, “Cool, man, you’re living the dream!”

Because I lived at home for over a year before moving into the Pebble Cove Motel, I tend to view my life here as quite idyllic. As for the other residents, I can only surmise, but my guess is that any middle-aged or older person who lives in a motel doesn’t go around asking to be pinched.

When I responded to an advertisement on craigslist offering, “winter studio efficiency,” the man on the other end of the phone suggested I drive down to the coast and take a look at a unit that would soon be vacant. A silver-haired, no-nonsense type of guy named Steve greeted me in the parking lot and gave the tour. At the time, a Chinese business man was staying in the room. Steve said he would be out in a couple of days and that the room would be available in one week’s time.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “We’ll have the place spic-and-span for you.”

I think what he meant was that Chinaman odor would be purged by the time I moved in.

With few other short-term rental options, I decided on the spot to take the room. I gave Steve a check for one month’s rent plus a security deposit and he told me I wouldn’t regret it, that the Pebble Cove was like a little family.

Perhaps, if your family is a group of transients who get kicked to the curb come June 1st so that well-off vacationers can occupy the rooms for the peak summer months. Where the Pebble Cove diaspora goes to I do not know. I will go to Beijing because I have nothing or nobody to stick around for.

Living in the unit to the left of mine is my middle-aged sister named either Jill or Lisa who works at either Pier One or Pottery Barn. On the other side is Ulrich, my 70-something-year-old drunken, heating-man, moonlighting-Nazi of a grandfather.

Aside from them and Steve, the acting father of this little clan, I don’t know any of my other family members except by face and vehicle. There’s “Explorer Chick,” (and also “Mustang Dude Who’s Presumably Banging Explorer Chick”) “Green Honda Van Dude,” “Maroon Honda Van Guy,” “White Civic Lady,” “Young Asian Corolla Dude,” “New Jeep Cherokee Older Guy,” and “Early Model Mazda 626 Dude.”

To them, I am no doubt “Silver Subaru Forester Dude.”

It strikes me as being very American to know one another by the vehicles we drive.

III.

Excerpts From the Diary of the Woman Next Door as Imagined by Me When I’m Feeling Conscious of How Thin the Walls Are

6:34: Dear Diary:

Well, so much for sleeping in on my only day off this week. The guy in room 3 is awake and packing his dishes away as he does first thing every morning. He apparently doesn’t realize how paper thin the walls are. That or he doesn’t care. So that means he’s an idiot or a jerk off…an idiot or a jerk off with OCD. It’s bad enough that I have to talk about dishes and cookware and cutlery and wine glasses at work all day. The last thing I want to do is wake up in my goddamned pathetic motel room of an apartment and listen to the sounds of that little OCD neat-nick asshole rattling kitchen wares around. Oh well. Since I’m awake I might as well pleasure myself.

8:08: Hello Diary:

So much for falling back asleep. I was hoping he’d take a day off from the weights but his compulsive little self is back at it. I mean, I’m assuming that he’s lifting weights vigorously. That or he’s masturbating in a suit of plate mail. I really think this guy is some sort of psycho. There are probably dismembered hookers hanging up in his shower. He probably eats hooker jerky for protein after workouts. And there he goes with the music. What the hell is he even listening to? Die Die My Darling? Your Own Personal Jesus? What kinds of lyrics are those? Oh God, now he’s singing along. What, is he serenading the hookers? But he must have a pretty sweet body from all of that working out. Mmm…the thought of his young, engorged body dripping sweat all over his little box is making my little box drip. I’m going to pummel my unfruitful womb with the Black Emperor for a little while and hopefully he’ll be done by the time I get off.

2:24: Hey Diary:

What is he yelling about? Every hour or so it’s “fuck” or “shit” or “cunt” or “fuck shit cunt.” Is he playing video games? Is a hooker trying to escape? Does he have Tourette’s? One thing he obviously doesn’t have is a job, because his silver Subaru just sits there all day.

Life isn’t fair, diary. Here I am breaking my middle-aged ass working at an unspecified home furnishing store while he gets to hang around and work out and play video games and fillet prostitutes. I’d masturbate again but I’m too goddamned depressed. I think I’ll go to Burger King, order two doubles with cheese and hope I choke to death on a piece of mechanically separated beef.

11:46: Hiya Diary:

You’d think that somebody who gets up at the crack of dawn would go to bed early, not stay up all night watching TV. His “friend” in the black car just drove off. I could smell the dope smoke billowing out the door as he left. They probably had drug-fueled unprotected man sex, the sounds of which were masked by a sports broadcast played at high volume. Sometimes I can hear what sounds like German coming from his place, and last week there was that strange incident where a woman left his room shouting, “You’re fucking crazy!” And I’m inclined to agree. Only a maniac would stay up all night getting stoned, flipping back and forth between science fiction thrillers and Mother Angelica. Weirdest of all is the way he sometimes disappears into the dark with a light perched atop his head, only to come running back a bit later and slam the door shut. Meh. I guess if I’m awake I may as well diddle myself one more time.

IV.

Just Another Saturday Night Blitzkrieg

I should have suspected that Ulrich works in the trades by the way that he backs into his parking spot every evening. All of these handy types of guys—men’s men—back into parking spaces.

Ulrich is a heating man. I’m pretty sure I heard him say, “Hello, this is the heating man,” on the phone. He might have said “beating man,” though. Or “eating man.” Maybe even “cheating man.” I’d like to think he said “fleeting man” but Ulrich doesn’t strike me as much of a poet.

It must have been a tough day at the office, whether heating or beating or eating, because ol’ Ulrich moved straight into the fleeting, into the beer, and is finishing them off at a clip of roughly one per 12 minutes.

I hear the fridge door open and the rattling of bottles inside. I hear the “psssst” of a bottle top popping. I hear Ulrich’s bed sag as he falls onto it. I hear the clanking of glass as the empty gets tossed into the bin. I hear the TV growing louder with each successive brew as the alcohol insulates him to his neighbors’ desires for quiet. I know where this night is headed.

I should probably jet before it gets there. There’s that new martini bar down the road where the older women hang out. It’s no secret that I’ve been coveting older women of late. It seems like all of the women my age around here have this creepy faraway look in their eyes which is their biological alarm clock going off, demanding a baby stat. I feel like I’m wasting their time. I’m most certainly not that guy. I mean, Christ, I live in a motel. I’m hardly father material.

But the older women aren’t biting tonight. Something about the blonde girl in the corner screams she’d go home on the first night. Availability is smeared across her face like too much foundation.

Just a few years ago I was flummoxed by women. Now, I obey the simple fact that most people have a hard time saying “no” to anything. Especially when alcohol and licentiousness are involved. It’s just a matter of getting her to say, “yes,” to the right series of questions, starting with, “Can I sit down?” and culminating with, “Do you want to get out of here?”

When she asks where I live I say the Pebble Cove, because it sounds like a charming little place where successful people live, not a brick motel built in the early 1970s that rents to a collection of Recession-products during the off-season.

When we arrive there she says, “You didn’t mention that you live at a motel.” I say, “That’s because you don’t seem like the kind of girl that would come back to a motel on the first night.” This is a lie, however, as she seems precisely like the kind of girl who would come back to a motel on the first night.

But she thinks what I said is funny and this provides an opening to kiss her, which I do, and we stumble around drunkenly while making out until we fall backwards onto my bed. Once her top is off it occurs to me that I don’t want to have to wash my sheets on account of sex stains so I pick her up and move her to the smaller double bed that mostly serves as a hamper and magazine rack.

As the magazines and books and fall to the floor with a racket she giggles and Ulrich cranks his TV up. I hear the sounds of strafing machine guns and a narrator’s voice saying something like, “Hitler’s forces turned upon France in May of 1940 and using Blitzkrieg tactics were able to occupy Paris by June.”

Hitler’s voice rattles, distorted, through the flimsy TV speakers as my tongue encircles nipple. Then come the sounds of artillery being fired, the narrator’s voice, a portion of a Wagner composition, boots marching in step.

“What is that?” she asks, sitting up.

“My neighbor likes to get drunk and watch Nazi documentaries,” I say.

“Oh. Like, a lot?”

“Like every weekend.”

I had a small window to fire her up to the sexual point of no return, where she could ignore the fact that she’s gone home with a stranger to his motel room. Now I can sense that there’s some serious doubt creeping in, doubt that’s compounded by the sounds of Nazi war propaganda.

The way she looks around the room tells me this thing is doomed. I give her nipple one last lick.

“What did you say you do? You’re a writer or something?”

“I write advertising copy.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I try to convince people to buy things they don’t really need.”

“Oh. And you do that from here?”

“Yes.”

“That must be kinda lonely.”

“Sometimes. That’s when I go to the bar and pick up a woman.”

She laughs awkwardly, probably hoping it’s a joke. I made the comment because I really want her to leave now that I know she’s not going to fuck me. I could probably cajole my way back into a tug job, but despite my targeting her on the assumption that she’d come home with me on the first night, I’m actually disappointed that she did. I think I can do better than a woman who comes back to a motel with a guy on the first night. I tell her this.

She gets out of bed and puts on her clothes to the sound of Hitler’s fiery oration.

“You know,” I say, “I’ve always suspected that German men of a certain age take great pride in the whole Nazi thing. Even though they can’t admit it, I bet you some of them view World War Two and the Holocaust in particular as the ultimate expression of German intelligence, industrialism, orderliness, thoroughness, and efficiency, which are the very cultural traits that make Germans proud, some even arrogantly so. What do you think?”

“Um, I’m Jewish,” she says as she buttons her blue overcoat and pulls on a pair of brown UGG boots.

“So what? You must still have an opinion on the matter.”

“You want to know what I think? I think you’re fucking crazy!”

She slams the door and leaves in her Volkswagen Cabriolet. Imagine that, the indignant little Jewess in her German coupe. It reminds me of those rich Jews who drive around cars made by BMW, a company that once upon a time made Nazi war machines.

I hear gravel crunching under her tires as she pulls away and then the only sounds are of alcohol abuse and German domination.

V.

Of Troglodytes and Men

I know how much forklifts cost. Warehouse forklifts, narrow aisle machines, telescopic, telehandler, straight mast, electric, internal combustion, fuel cell, with inflatable tires, pneumatic tires, heavy-duty off-road tires. I know all of the major suppliers of phone systems and how much they cost, the difference between PBX and VoIP systems and how each can help your business streamline its communications, improve customer service, and boost its bottom line. I know how much point of sales (POS) systems for night clubs, restaurants, retail stores and pizza shops cost, that Comcash has been a leading provider of POS solutions since 1996. I know how much air compressors, ATM machines, trade show displays and digital copiers cost (although individual prices may vary based on location, requirements, and individual vendors). I can give you price quotes for home improvement projects ranging from plumbing to construction to hiring an interior designer. I can explain the benefits and drawbacks of various countertop, roofing, fencing, and flooring materials. I can explain seven projects for a Japanese wood saw and why you should insure your Golden Retriever. And I can tell you without question that if the negligent actions of another caused your injury, you may be entitled to compensation.

What I can’t tell you is how the people reading this information would react if they knew it came from a guy in a motel room who neither owns nor can afford nor has any use for any of these goods or services, who is wearing only a pair of frayed soccer shorts.

“Fuck.”

The computer cursor lags on the screen.

“Shit.”

It stops completely.

“Cunt.”

The computer is frozen again.

I can tell you how much it costs to repair an overheating computer, but I can’t tell you how I’m going to come up with the money to have mine repaired.

“Fuck shit cunt.”

I shut it down, close the lid, and decide to go for a walk.

As I step out of my front door I shoo away a male cardinal who is attacking himself in my car’s passenger side mirror. When I first moved in to Pebble Cove I thought that the handsome red bird perched atop my passenger side mirror was a good omen. Now, it mostly annoys me because he scratches the glass and poops all over the door. But I also feel bad for the bastard. He doesn’t realize that persistent rival male is actually himself. The instinct to protect his turf has failed him.

I nod to Green Honda Van Dude as I make my way out to the road and walk the ½ mile to Odiorne Point State Park. It is the site of the first permanent European settlement in New Hampshire, founded in 1623. The U.S. government seized control of the land through eminent domain in the early 1940s to construct a battery that could adequately protect nearby Portsmouth Harbor. It never saw any action save for the firing of practice rounds and in 1961 the land was transferred to the State of New Hampshire for use as a state park, with all military structures demolished or exhumed except for the concrete casemate. The displaced millionaires never had a chance to reclaim their land, an enduring source of bitterness in a part of America where people don’t need much of an excuse to be enduringly bitter.

I come upon the remaining concrete fortifications which are mostly buried now under fill and secondary growth. The grey stonework peeks out from under fresh spring greens like a confused old man among a gathering of teens. Graffiti stains it in its usual forms of louche wisdom and second rate artistry.

Passing under the entombed structure I notice a breach in the metal door that leads into the casemate. I stick my cell phone into the hole and attempt to use its light to see what lies beyond, but am afforded a mere foot of visibility.

At that very moment two 20-somethings on bikes pass by and the curly-haired lead rider says, “Hold on a minute bro, we’ve got lights.”

I follow them into the hole, squeeze through the jagged-cornered opening with care and step into an environment that is dark, cold, and musty, in stark contrast to the bright, muggy day outside.

The men pan their flashlights from side to side, revealing rusted pipes and ceiling tracks that were used to roll artillery out to the guns. Duct work, beer cans, bottles, and other debris is strewn across the ground, requiring that every step be taken with care. But it’s a challenge to focus on anything except for the walls covered in charnel imagery, made more ghostly by the vertiginous shifting light and amplified sounds of the dank, asbestos-ridden chamber.

“This place doesn’t open up very often. Maybe every 10-15 years somebody finds a way in,” says the curly-haired guy. “You can tell by the dates on the walls and the can designs.”

His friend, with a dark complexion and a thin beard, mutters something about the place being like the Mines of Moria.

Off of the main hall are several rooms, one of which leads down into a wide-chambered basement. I can see my breath in the nebulous light. We descend an oxidized ladder into a small passageway that we waddle through in a squatting position. Only when crammed into a dirt-floored boiler room of approximately 4 feet tall by 8 feet wide by 8 feet long do we introduce ourselves.

When I tell them I live at the Pebble Cove Motel the dark-haired guy says, “You live in a motel? Cool, man. It’s like a movie or something.”

This is the only room where a dedicated mural exists. The rest of the bunker is a cacophony of visions that overlap and choke out any attempts at artfulness. I think about the artist who spent hour upon hour hunched in this cramped chamber, inhaling toxic air and paint fumes, to create a sepulchral work that few eyes will ever chance upon. Could their endeavor be the result of a failed instinct?

This place brings to mind prehistoric caves and how scientists try to glean those peoples’ cultural knowledge from the images drawn on the walls. If nuclear Armageddon or another endgame of humanity transpired this wartime structure would likely survive. At some point it would be discovered and the eggheads of the day would begin to surmise its meaning and what it says about its creators. They would be forced to conclude that our race was obsessed with death and fermented beverages, that we were sacrilegious, contrarian, perverted, resentful of authority, immature, would-be soothsayers, false prophets, plagiarists, charlatans, hopeful yet pessimistic all at once, that we possessed a darkness of spirit that was given expression by our creative impulses. If those surveying this relic of 20th and 21st century Homo sapiens didn’t know any better, they would swear that we were somehow rooting against our own cause, that like a cardinal pecking itself in the passenger side mirror of a Subaru, some instinct of our race had collectively failed us.

As for my own instincts, it seems that at least one of them favors driving me into small, claustrophobic spaces that I share with the company of strangers. The first of June is nigh, and when I turn the page on the calendar I will also turn the page on the next stage of my life. As the vacationers arrive to enjoy the finest New England months the troglodyte slinks into the shadows, holes up in a Chinese ghetto to fester in the heat of summer. The instinct that tells me to do this is the same one that told me to leave Her behind and stare down the barrel of life alone. Only in time will I be able to judge whether this instinct has failed me.

***

It is a humid late-May evening and I am unable to sleep. Listening to the ocean hum and haw in the darkness I decide to head back to the bunker.

With my miner’s torch secured atop my head I proceed to Odiorne Point State Park. When I get to the bunker I find that the opening has been sealed, consigning the paint-splattered interior to memory and posterity. I sit down there in the darkness under the bunker’s arch with my flashlight and my flesh and my instincts and wonder why the hell I can’t sleep, and decide that it’s the same reason why the ocean can’t sleep.

On the way back home I stop at my usual midnight overlook and see a sliver of moonlight break dancing the heaving chest of the sea. When I turn around and head back towards room 3 at the Pebble Cove I don’t run this time.

Click to view a complete photo gallery of The Bunker

For my 10th birthday my family took me to a steakhouse. This was the last time in my childhood I really enjoyed eating meat. I ordered steak tips medium rare. Before they brought the food they brought out tin buckets full of peanuts. My brother and I finished an entire pail, cracking the shells open with our fists, crunching the remnants on the floor. When our meals came, I could still feel the empty shells crushed under my feet.

This was about five years ago, back when my book was just coming out and people still used Myspace.  I kept a daily blog called ‘The A.D.D. Blog,’ and it wound up having a pretty good readership.

Somewhere along the line, I decided to conduct a letter writing experiment.  I told my readers that if they wrote me a letter — an old-fashioned letter, with a stamp, in the mail — I would respond in kind. I got myself a post office box, posted the address online, and waited.  And then the letters started coming in, dozens of them, all from strangers.  I answered each one over a period of about three months.   And then, when that was done, I canceled the PO Box and boxed up all the letters and put them away in storage.



It rained in LA this past weekend, a huge spring downpour that fell so heavy, and for so long, that there were flash-flood warnings and car accidents and a giant jacaranda on my block got uprooted and toppled across the asphalt, crushing two parked cars.  (Nobody, thankfully, was injured.)

I was stuck inside and fidgety and wound up going into my closet, unearthing an old box on a whim, and within that box were the “experiment letters,” sitting there on top in a giant stack.  For the better part of the afternoon, I sat there re-reading them — staggered, in a way, by how good they were — or, at the least, how interesting.  And often moving.  And sometimes pretty disturbing.

I figured I’d share a little bit, in the form of anonymous excerpts from some of the better offerings.  Individually, each snippet here struck me somehow.  And collectively, they paint a pretty striking composite picture of humanity in the digital age (or any age?).



WASHINGTON, D.C.:

When I’m really stressed, I sometimes have sex dreams about Ted Koppel.  I’m scared this is a sign of mental illness and that stresses me out even more.



CABOT, AR:

Last Wednesday Jenny went out for girls’ night.  I called the few friends I have that are still in town and it was to no avail.  I decided to drown my sorrows/boredom in a bottle of rum while listening to my iTunes five-star playlist over and over.  After hearing the live version of ‘Copperhead Road’ for what was close to the fifth time, the uncontrollable urge to get my rock on overtook me and, debit card in hand, I headed down to the local Wal-Mart and snagged a copy of Guitar Hero II.



BALTIMORE, MD:

I hate it when a good pen goes dry.  It beats dry pussy, though.



CASSELBERRY, FL:

Is it weird that my boyfriend is the one rushing into marriage?  Is it weirder that I’m not in any rush?  I guess I don’t want to be married when I’m in a dead end job and live in an apartment.  I’d rather have a career, one I can stand, maybe even one I look forward to…at least one that pays better, and with that be able to purchase a home.



SAN DIEGO, CA:

The culture of Navy people is incredibly odd.  They live their careers in a hierarchy.  The higher in rank they get, the less work they have to do and the more they show off to the lesser ranks.  They leave the military and find they have absolutely no people skills.



CLAYTON, CA:

You see, I’ve never had an exciting mailman.  No matter where I move, the mailman always seems like a typical white, middle-aged man with a growing balding spot.  I’ve always felt left out of those “your dad is really the mailman LOL” jokes, because it’s hard to imagine housewives, no matter how suburban and sexually desperate, copulating with a man who bears a striking resemblance to their actual husband.



WALDPORT, OR:

I dated my husband at 15, married at 19, and had a child at 21.  And now at 33 I have a 12-year-old daughter and a very unhappy marriage.  Where do I go from here?  Do I grow some balls and do something about my marriage and verbally abusive husband?  Most everything I’ve ever done has been for someone, but never myself.



NEW CASTLE, PA:

I’m a senior now, majoring in music education with a concentration in voice.  So pretty much I’m singing all the time and I’m also in the bands.  I play the tuba.  You should be laughing because that’s the general consensus of people.  I’m 5’6″ and have a thinner build, so it’s funny to see me dragging a sousaphone around.



DENVER, CO:

Today, I interviewed for Teach for America.  It went well, I think.  I was scared.  When it was over, I was hot and shaking.  I picked up the phone again and started dialing.  And my home phone started ringing.  The number used to be my mother’s.  I adopted it when she died.  I forgot she wasn’t there to pick up.  Just for a minute.



BOSTON, MA:

Sometimes I like to masturbate at work.  I’ll be sitting at my desk and my clit will just start throbbing and I will be unbearably horny.  Overwhelmed with my sexuality, I will retreat into the bathroom.  Lying on the floor, I will fantasize, usually picking a favorite sexual memory.  I focus on the look on his/her face and rub myself until I cum, not making a sound.  I am especially horny when I am bleeding, and days before I bleed.  Sometimes I get blood on my fingers when I masturbate.  And I lick it off.  Do you like that?



KIRKSVILLE, MO:

I worked at a funeral home.  When you work at a funeral home, you become part of the background; people forget that you’re watching and that they’re not alone.  It made me uncomfortable to witness their grief, their family quarrels…I guess it made me uncomfortable to see them without their masks on (like that Twilight Zone episode).  But put me in front of a computer screen and I will read a person’s deepest secrets for hours on end.



SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA:

My husband and I met online.  I placed an ad on Yahoo personals, and he was one of the people who answered.  We sent emails, then longer emails, then more frequent emails.  We spent hours talking over the phone, and then finally met in person in a nice, safe, public place (a mall close to where I was living).  We have been married a little over two years now.



LONG BEACH, CA:

Did I mention I have OCD?  No?  Well, now you have that little tidbit.  I wash my hands countless times per day, only write with certain types of pens, my car’s interior is spotless, I arrange the bills in my wallet in descending order facing the same way, and probably a plethora of other idiosyncracies that have yet to be pinpointed and identified, usually by my girlfriend.



LAKE HAVASU, AZ:

Do you have any children that you know of?



DUNDAS, ONTARIO – CANADA:

You do realize that many people (just like me) will use these letters as a form of therapy.



SPRINGFIELD, OR:

I just had a dumb argument with my wife about cold medicine and why I don’t take it.  I got defensive — I take it, by the way.  I just resist.



RICHMOND, KY:

They poisoned the stray cats on the street.  Evil people.  I hated my living situation.  And just when I couldn’t take any more of Jim and Edna’s shit, my upstairs neighbor got a new girlfriend.  I could overhear their boring, giggling, getting-to-know-you conversations (which they held on the “porch” right outside my bedroom window), as well as the getting-to-know-you sex they had above my head.  Her orgasms sounded like what can only be described as a dying cow.  Whatever he did to her to inspire those noises inspired me to take a broom and bang on the ceiling to to the same rhythm as their humping.



BALTIMORE, MD:

I’ve been on Weight Watchers since May.  I’ve gone from being overweight to average to almost underweight.  And this week marks my last week of maintenance and today is my last weigh-in before I become a lifetime member and don’t have to pay anymore.  That is, unless I’ve gained a huge amount of weight this week.  It’s been worrying me.  I got nervous.  And ate candy.  And that got me more nervous, so I drank magnesium citrate.  And now I’m just stressing out more until I weigh in tonight at five.

I grew up overseas.  Asia and Europe.  More specifically, Turkey and the UAE.  My parents were teachers at American schools.  Living there got me to be pretty open-minded about stuff.  Including my sexuality.  I used to think I was straight.  Then bi.  Then a lesbian.  Now I’m leaning towards bi again.  I don’t think I can really test that theory, though.  The thought of a relationship scares me.  I got my heart broken once, when I was 17.  By a girl.  So I don’t want a relationship with another girl yet.  Tried that — I wasn’t ready.  But boys scare me.  So I’ll never know who I am. At least until I’m out of adolescence.



MENOMINEE, MI:

I’m at a point in my life where I’m coming to terms with my own mediocrity.  I hesitate to say I’ve given up — because that’s even more pathetic than mediocrity.  I would rather live a black comedy than a foreign drama.  I still feel like an impostor and totally unqualified to be an adult.  I think about my parents and wonder if they dealt with this sort of identity crisis.



MT. SHASTA, CA:

I watched such a disturbing video on Myspace recently.  A hundred “money shots” from men with other men.  The men who were on the receiving end were gagging, literally.  And the looks on their faces…I just hope they got paid well.  And that it didn’t all go up their noses.



CANYON, TX:

It seems that the only emotion I can express is anger.  Which makes sense, because anger is the most real emotion you have.  But so is joy, and I can’t seem to get a grip on that one.  If I go by astrology, I should start to have good luck and happiness by the time I’m thirty.

Wow, less than nine years of torture and darkness.

Well, at least I have a goal in life.



JONESBOROUGH, TN:

To pay the bills, I work at a local grocery store in the bakery/deli department.  (Yes, I do have a degree, but it didn’t take long to learn that it’s fairly useless.)  It’s not bad — I make OK money, can do the job in my sleep (I’m a virtuoso on the meat slicer), and I like the people (particularly the assistant store manager — but that’s a whole other story, heh).  I hate the uniform — they make us dress up as chefs (oh yeah — hats, too!).  They seem to be under the delusion that we work in a 5-star restaurant serving haute cuisine instead of boil-in-a-bag/fried crap on a hot bar in a grocery store.



LEXINGTON, SC:

I never cry and it kind of scares me a bit.  I used to cry for no reason at all.  Now when I try — nothing, absolutely zilch.  Until just recently (actually this morning).  I was in the shower and became intimate with my shower head.  I had the most intense orgasm, but afterwards I just sobbed and sobbed.  Strange, huh?



ISSAQUAH, WA:

My daughter’s conditions make her more vulnerable than the average teen for pregnancy, running away, drug use, and health should she ever become pregnant or try to have a family.  Hell, just having a LIFE will be a challenge.  At times, I’m simply overwhelmed by the enormity of my daughter’s problems.  I try, very fervently, to focus on the positives — the high intelligence, the vivid imagination, the amazing creativity, the advanced artistic ability.  Sometimes, though, all I can see is the struggle of the hour.  And a lot of the time, I find myself wishing the day away, so that night will come — so that she’ll be in bed, asleep, and I can breathe again, relax, remove my drawn-up shoulders from around my ears.



LONG BEACH, CA:

For some reason, I really like lobsters — whimsical pictures of lobsters, live ones scuttling in tanks, lobster/crab imagery, claw harmonicas, etc., though I don’t know why.  The only thing I don’t want to do is eat them.  I’d never kill one, much less crack it open in some barbaric fashion and scoop out the meat from its very bug-like body.  In San Francisco, I used to pinch my ex with my hand claws — it was a strange form of PG-rated foreplay.  Worked every time, but maybe that’s because I was often nude.



WORCESTER, MA:

One of my students is a boy in 5th grade.  One day, in the middle of a quiet writing assignment, he decided to share his desire to be dunked in a pool of chocolate so that he could lick it off his body, because then he would taste really good.  He’s autistic and has a very loud voice naturally, but he tends to be louder when he is more excited.  He was very excited by the idea of being dipped in chocolate.  I got some comments from the teacher across the hall.  It’s often very amusing what children will say in general, but when a child has no verbal filter, well, I tend to hear some strange things.  I love my job.



NAYLOR, MO:

My favorite subject is sex.  I find that people are not open enough about it; most people find that I’m too open about it.  I’m single and have been most of my adult life.  I don’t mind most of the time.  I’d rather be single than be with someone that I am not passionate about.  I know that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?  Says who?  I mean, it’s important, nobody likes an asshole all the time, but people are lying if they say it doesn’t matter what someone looks like.  Likewise, sexual attraction is very important.  I keep hearing, “but he’s so sweet,” “he’s very responsible,” he’s good looking.”  All that is great and fine but if the sparks aren’t flying then a relationship is relegated to friends.



UNION, ME:

I work in a group home for children in state custody due to abuse and/or neglect.  Basically, kids are removed from abusive homes and come to us.  We work with them and try to help break the cycle of abuse, and to prepare them for foster care.  Emotionally, it can get tough — it’s not uncommon for me to cry the whole ride home after work.  Despite that, I love the job.  I’m one of the lucky ones.  I love what I do, I’m proud of it, and I’m good at it.  I’m also broke, because it doesn’t pay for shit.  Can’t have everything, I guess.



EVANSTON, IL:

I’m 33.  I have a six-and-a-half-year-old son.  Going through a divorce.  The usual:  husband cheats and has two kids with another woman.  I make light of it now but unfortunately it’s true.  Enough about that.  I’m sure you’d rather hear about my son who wants to be a girl.  That’s true, too.  He’s a great kid.  I just think of him as being very creative, right?  Just say yes.



PORTAGE, IN:

My son, Billy, just got married last year.  I am truly happy for him and Tammy.  I would like to find a companion for myself.  At age 48, my love life has led me onto a path of cynicism and cautiousness.  I remember when I used to fall so easily for someone.  Now, my immediate reaction is to find, as quickly as possible, all the reasons why a potential relationship might fail.  In my attempt to save time and prevent pain, I have painted myself into a lonely corner.  Somehow, being aware of my self-sabotage has not altered my pattern.



BAJA, MEXICO:

At age 26, I can tell you I haven’t been endowed with favor for interpersonal relationships.  I haven’t been lucky with the guys I like.  They just don’t like me.  It is maybe because I’m very shy when it comes to a guy I like.  I think this has to do with the thing that I was sexually abused when I was a child.  I’ve changed many things in the last six years:  I’ve read; I went to a psychologist….Anyhow, I’m still alone.  It’s weird and sad (sometimes) being 26 and not knowing what it is to have a person beside you that you could call your boyfriend.  (I have have never had one.)  Sometimes I think that maybe I’m destined to be alone — who knows?



HOBOKEN, NJ:

Most multi-millionaires are happiest when they’re interacting with strangers.  In real life they are the most miserable bastards you’ll ever meet.  I’m not a millionaire, I just dress like one.  I’m an eBay-aholic.  If you’re ever bored, go to this site, www.evalueville.com.  Just don’t get hooked like I did.



BROOKLINE, MA:

There’s an aspiring actress who lives somewhere in Hollywood.  We’ve been friends since age six.  I see her every six months or so — whenever I’m in town.  She mentioned she would like to have a temporary life parnter.  I told her I might move into my family’s vacant house in LA while I’m in law school.  She says she’ll live with me.  I told her it will cost her a lot.  She said she’d cook.  You get the picture.



LA MESA, CA:

I haven’t much of a sex life.  Although I think about it in the mornings when I wake up only.  I’m dreaming of a nice man, as I’m a woman.  I want to experience life as well as love.  I work as an artist.  I draw temporary tattoos on people yet I so want to do the REAL TATTOOS!

So I’m drinking Bass ale tonight after a very long abstinence.  I guess I’m buzzed, but it’s good because at least I’m writing….

It’s all good.



ANAHEIM, CA:

I’m a happily married woman with 2 kids, 1 dog, and 3 hermit crabs.  Until 3 weeks ago I thought I had it all until I met a gentleman I’ll call Sam.  Sam came on to me pretty hard at a party and I was very flattered, but not interested.  The next day, two of my best friends called to tell me how Sam wanted to meet me again and how beautiful I was and how I was the woman for him.  I was suddenly interested, because I felt like a goddess and I was finally getting the attention I feel I need.  My husband is very quiet and non-complimentary and basically refuses to fawn over me.  My friend asked if Sam could have my number and I said yes.  We began speaking to each other every other day or so for 2 weeks and we finally met in person.  The electricity between us was phenomenal and we haven’t even kissed.  We just talked that night for about 20 minutes and left.  We haven’t spoken since.  My friend says I said something that night that scared him, but I don’t remember anything I might have said to scare him off.  He still talks about me all the time, but won’t call me.  I know I’m just responding to his attention since I don’t get that need fulfilled within my marriage, but why, oh why won’t he call!  I’m pissed.  I’ve never in my adult life had a guy blow me off.  Asshole.  I’ve tried to get over it, but my girlfriend and her husband are roommates with him and I would feel like a bitch if I ask her to not talk about him.  That would be selfish, but I can’t seem to get past this.  I totally feel like I’m back in high school and I don’t know what to do.



HOUSTON, TX:

It seems that being a 21-year-old female artist who is straight-forward is threatening to a lot of men.  I refuse to be submissive to anyone.  Except of course Jon (the cocaine addict).  I’ve only been with him twice.  Now that I think about it he probably thinks I’m some girl he made up in his mind while he was blowed.  I haven’t heard from him in a week.  I don’t understand — the sex was mind-blowing — I know it was more so for him, too.  I don’t even get the pleasure of being a fucking booty call.  I never told him how I felt because I didn’t want to scare him off.  I’d rather be a “friend with benefits” than be nothing at all to him.  Now I see that I achieved that anyway.  I’m hoping he’s so fucked up that he hasn’t remembered me.



NORTHUMBERLAND, PA:

I am scared.  I write….A LOT!  Especially poetry.  I collect stamps and baseball cards.  I think Johnny Depp is gorgeous!  Every year, I have three different calendars on the wall in my room.  It is tradition.  This year I have a Beatles one, Scenes from Paris, and a Disney Princess one.  I hate bugs.  I wear contacts.  One of my best friends is a whore.  I have two dogs.  I got a stuffed hippopotamus for Christmas.  My brother and sister actually have A.D.D. and Tourette’s.  I don’t.  I’m the youngest.  Last year, I broke my wrist falling off the computer chair.  I’m addicted to Facebook and Myspace.



EL PASO, TX:

I once fell in love with a very apathetic boy named David, and I cried and eventually he cried and we loved each other, but he’s in Missouri and I’m in Texas, and though he repeatedly promised me that “true love waits” and “one day we’ll be together,” he lied and found himself a shallow girl there who fell in love with him and so that was that.  He settled for something “okay” instead of waiting and working for something “great.”  I think, since this falling out with my dearest David, I have become a more apathetic person.  I’ve found someone else now, though.  And honestly, I love him wholeheartedly.  His name is Miguel.  I’m beginning to fear, though, that maybe we are too different.  He’s into video games and heavy metal, and I’m a writer and into a lot of different music — not including heavy metal.  But, I’m making an effort to involve myself in the things he enjoys — such as Warhammer 40k.



EGLIN AFB, FL:

I am seeing a therapist for the deeper issues.  Being teased growing up, bickering mother, environmental changes, surviving chronic mastoiditis, losing my life during delivery (almost), gall bladder surgery, and hubby’s deployment….The house got fleas.  They are gone now.  The car’s starter went out.  Billy and I got the flu.  Why does things go wrong when you least expect it?



SEWICKLEY, PA:

You said to write to you about anything, so I’m going to include in this letter a confession.  I have a cousin on death row in San Quentin for the murder of of a police officer.



GREENCASTLE, IN:

One blustery fall day as the cats played outside, I told my parents I was going to the city to grab a sandwich, to sit and meditate at the park.  My dad told me I could not go.  Dad said, “Do I have to hold you down?  Do I have to call the cops?”  I was not acting strange or remotely violent.  If you knew me, you would understand how subtle and shy I am.

Dad took apart my car engine and hid my car keys.  He called the cops from his hospital (he’s a doctor) and the ambulance drove up with the cop cars.  The cops said they could make my dad give the keys back, or since the ambulance was there I could go in it.  Who knows why — worst mistake I have made — I went in the ambulance, and after a day of failing to explain to physicians why I was in a hospital, I signed myself into a mental institution and had to stay there for a week.



DUNDEE, SCOTLAND:

When I was little, about 8 years old, my life was great, or I thought it was.  And then it went all wrong when I found out my parents had been keeping secrets, which meant none of my childhood was as great as I thought it was.  I’ve slowly learnt to deal with the fact that everyone lies and keeps secrets.  Not really sure who I am anymore, but I’ve finally gotten to a point in my life where I don’t care if people don’t like me.



CORNING, NY:

I’m married to a wonderful man and we have been together for 15 years.  We have a beautiful daughter.  We have great jobs and a “good life.”  The conflict comes from me feeling like I’ve come to a boring place inside.  My life has always been filled with hard times, abandonment and different kinds of abuse.  I understand that it became my security blanket over time and without it life seems plain.  Recently, I have been chatting with other writers online and one in particular has set a fire in me, not only with my writing but personally.  I feel kind of obsessed with him.  He is very interesting and we have so much in common.  I flipped out the other night and professed all of these things and luckily our friendship didn’t disintegrate.  I felt like an ass the next morning for saying it out loud and for feeling like I slighted my husband in some way.  My friend is also married and neither of us is willing to ruin our relationships — not to mention we geographically are separated.  But I wonder if my enjoyment of his company is wrong.  We both feel like we fill a void in each other that our spouses could never fill because they don’t enjoy the things that truly fill our hearts.



HARRISBURG, PA:

Picking lint
from my belly
Texas rain
Stinky wet dog
Something’s growing on my neck
like a zit, maybe cancer or
an eyeball or a second penis
the cat’s all twitchy
laying on a chair
dreaming cat things.



BERLIN, GERMANY:

I’m in Berlin today.  I’m working on a book with a friend.  I’m also wondering whether to dump my new boyfriend.  He’s excellent, but the sex is crap.  His penis has a large head and a small shaft, like a slender-stemmed mushroom.  Do you get a lot of those — random, intimate confessions brought about by the anonymity of the letter exchange project?



NEW YORK, NY:

It doesn’t make sense why I should die.  I just look at things simply and I don’t try and complicate them by learning through other people’s delusions.  I don’t like their logic so I make my own.  I don’t make shit up like professors and shit do.  I just look at something as basically as I can and I take it for that.  I don’t go to school and pollute my mind with someone else’s fantasy about how the world fucking works.  I don’t want to be a psychologist or sociologist or priest.  I don’t try to explain things in that sort of way.  The simpler one lives, the easier it is to become the master of one’s self and surroundings.  Doesn’t that sound fucking nice and fluffy?  That way you stop living in the fantasy world and live in reality.

When something occurs in the universe, it should stay that way.  Maybe because I don’t believe I can die, that makes me unable to die.  I believe other things can die because they’re idiots and believe in the same logic that everyone else believes in.  But I won’t.



MINNEAPOLIS, MN:

We moved into a small apartment in Anaheim, California and lived simply.  A couple of memories that stick from that time are watching the fireworks and getting some kind of vaccination shot.  It’s funny because we never went to Disneyland, yet right from our apartment we could clearly see the fireworks from Space Mountain.  We would watch them whenever they went off.



EASTPOINTE, MI:

Mostly I think people as a whole suck.  One of my daughter’s first phrases she uttered was ‘I hate people.’  Now she wears a shirt that says, ‘Drop knowledge, not bombs.’  At any rate, I think the word entitlement says it all with a lot of people today, especially the upcoming generations.  On the other hand, just so you don’t think I’m a complete anarchist, I’m totally fascinated by people, and their lives.



OAK ISLAND, NC:

I had an awesome conversation last week with someone in line at the grocery store.  It was pretty one-sided, but I enjoyed it.  I asked her if she knew if an avocado was a fruit or vegetable.  She shook her head no and I told her it was a fruit.  She turned away but I continued by stating that they have a large, stony seed.  She scoffed when I told her that they can be eaten raw in salads or as dips.  The cashier laughed at that line.  I got her phone number, and we had sex two days later.  Needless to say, I won’t be returning to that grocery store anytime soon.





Waiting to wait at the DMV

One of the first things you might notice about people at the DMV—besides the most obvious, superficial aspects of race, class, and station—are the bottoms. It’s not that you’re into people’s rear ends – though maybe you are – but that there’s a kind of taboo to looking. At first, you tell yourself, it’s just a glance, but then you glance at another. You know, just for idle comparison, right? Pretty soon the bottom becomes the DMV’s version of a window into the soul, a starting place to see a person’s humanity, in their natural clothes, in their natural stance, in their natural attitude. I was at the San Francisco DMV when this happened to me.

There was this woman way ahead of me at the counter who was shaped exactly like the Penguin from Batman Returns–if the Penguin were inclined to wear a purple jumpsuit. Her bottom encompassed nearly the entire backside of her body, one shallow curve beginning around the high hamstring area before tapering off just below the neck. She moved her arms wildly like a conductor when she spoke, but as she turned her head I saw that she was all smiles. She struck me as a lady in control of her day, a rare sight at the DMV, and I liked her immediately.

Another woman, whom I overheard complaining about a registration fee, was roughly the inverse shape-wise: short and generally petite, but an imposing creature with undulating curves. Her bottom, having roughly the same volume as the first woman’s though on a much smaller frame, was the kind of bottom that men tend to whistle at, or sculpt, and indeed I found myself drawn to it.

It must have been her hips. The term “birthing hips” comes to mind, but that doesn’t really do it justice. Her stature was like a tangerine with a pencil running through it from top to bottom. It was that dramatic.

Adding to the effect was the opulent design of her jeans, the back pockets of which were adorned with strips of fabric and fasteners, all cinched horizontally from one cheek to the other, giving her bottom an efficient, packaged look that seemed more inclined to be addressed and mailed than admired from afar.

As I watched her I could see that most of her time at the counter was spent looking off into the distance with a stern, pinched expression. She didn’t want to be there. She had somewhere else to be.

Unlike the first woman, she hardly moved at all, just stood there anxiously, and I began to imagine her surrounded by trees, a doe in the wild, standing perfectly still, trying to avoid the sights of nearby hunters. I felt like the hunter, and sheepishly looked away, only half-catching sight of her passing by silently, no doubt heading to some nearby brook or stream. She must get looked at all the time, not just at the DMV, and I wondered if her face would relax that pinched expression once there was nobody around to look at her.

I was feeling a bit awkward then, trying not to look at anyone or at least not anyone in particular. Then there was a young Japanese girl. She passed me a few times as I stood in line and caught my attention. She was wearing a loose, oversized dress over mostly hidden jeans, a shapeless outfit about as revealing as a duvet. Later, when I finally sat down, waiting for my number to be called, I noticed her sitting across from me: Large, old-fashioned glasses, the kind your grandmother keeps at her bedside table, and wisps of long, brown hair hanging down, covering most of her face. She was a bookish girl, quiet looking, but intense in her gaze like an owl. She was watching people too, and I watched her steal glances at a dwarfish man who was standing across the way.

He looked like Santa Claus in the off-season, with the big beard and the red suspenders holding up a pair of hardy, brown pants, giving me the uncertain impression that he either had no bottom at all or was, in fact, all bottom. (The type of pants, I began to imagine, that would be appropriate for working in a toy factory.) His face was tired and steady like an old clock, until it lit up with pleasure, his eyebrows high and kindly, as he finally reached the front of his line. I kid you not, but his cheeks actually became rosy when he approached the woman behind the counter. The Japanese girl covered her mouth briefly. Maybe a cough, though she might have been smiling.

Eventually, my number was called. Even if you’ve been watching people the whole time, you forget to be self-conscious when it’s your turn. What am I wearing? How am I standing? What’s my attitude look like? You never wonder if people are watching you. You’re distracted by the call to stage.

I stepped to the window and leaned hard against the counter, feeling as though the further I leaned, the faster the matter would be handled. At the DMV, everyone leans like this, shamelessly, believing it helps. The myth persists because once you’re at the counter you are processed with surprising efficiency. It must be working. You lean-in harder.

I thanked the woman at the counter, leaned back, and turned to make my exit, along the way passing the young Japanese girl, her eyes now settled in front of her, apparently focused on nobody in particular. Then, as I reached the exit, I paused for a moment to turn around and take a photo, thinking it might be nice to have one on-hand in case I wanted to write about it later. As I did this, I noticed the Japanese girl, her neck now oriented to the right, eyes comfortably settled where my bottom had been moments before.


I’ve discovered, by traveling at the holidays, that people in general are not a particularly nice bunch of bipeds. Especially at Christmas. They’re greedy, self-centered, bitter, and not above running you over for a better parking space. By the time I leave Maryland for the Great White North of New Hampshire and my family’s Christmas traditions, I’m so sick of humanity that I want to bitch slap it into the New Year.

I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a rock star. For the two years I took gymnastics I thought I would go to the Olympics. I thought maybe I would be a lesbian. I fully intended to be a poor writer, living in an apartment somewhere in New York with two or three dogs and no electricity. I considered doing the same in the country except that the basic necessities would take up all my time. I feared I would live out the dream scene in Look Who’s Talking, in which Kirstie Alley’s character pictures her life if she married John Travolta’s character. I got really close on that one. I thought I might be single for a while. I thought of becoming a happy old maid. I thought I’d be dead by now. Not for any particular reason, of course. Just because, which is why I think most things.

I also wanted to be a saint. Not just any saint, though. Not the kind that get her sainthood by doing a lot of nice things for other people. Not the kind who donates money, volunteers, feeds the poor, touches dirty people and so forth. I wanted to be a martyr. I wanted to be one of those virgins who got thrown to the lions rather than betray her vow of purity, one of those who were so beautiful that to protect their virginity, they mutilated their beautiful faces. I considered becoming a nun because the idea of alternately praying and working in a vegetable garden within the stone walls of a convent sounded sublime. I hated tomatoes, but I could imagine the freshness and beautiful red ripeness of tomatoes grown by the virtuous women of my would-be convent. I thought a vow of silence would be fab. Then I learned about sex. In the eighth grade, I thought really hard and decided I couldn’t become a nun because I liked boys too much. Not boys, really, but guys. The ones who notice you. The ones who toss meaningful glances across the church when you are sitting in your pew pretending to pray.

I thought my mom would die when I was 16 because when she was 16, her mom died. I thought I was really lucky to still have a mom at 17, and then I thought I was pretty dumb because if she was going to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she would’ve died when my older sister turned 16, since my mom was the oldest of her family. But the whole pattern started to lose credibility because my mom was the oldest of three while there were four kids in our family, and the oldest was a boy. That was a turning point.

I wanted to be terribly skinny, but that was never going to happen. I wanted to be one of those girls that other girls call “skinny bitch,” because even if other girls hate you, at least you’re skinny, which is the most valuable trait a woman can have. But starving myself was out of the question, and I couldn’t bring myself to puke, not even with a spoon down the throat. Then I thought maybe I’d just lose a few pounds. I wanted to be crazy and wear dark eye liner and be excused for things because people thought I was “sensitive.” Then I got therapy, and I wanted to be listened to. And I wanted a big dictionary, and I got it, but I never open it because it’s too damned big, and who needs a dictionary that big when you’ve got internet, anyway? Then I got group therapy and realized I was comparatively incredibly well-adjusted, and that as fucked up as I was, so was everyone else. Then I just wanted to be left alone and not to have to listen to these people anymore, and then I told this girl in therapy to say hi to my old best friend who went to her high school, and only years later did I realize how awkward that must have been. “Hey, I’m in group therapy with your best friend from junior high, and she says to tell you hi.”

I considered becoming a Realtor. I worked in customer service, selling shoes, then selling jeans, then selling coffee. Turns out it doesn’t matter what I’m selling. I cannot be nice to people purely in the hopes of receiving money from them. I waited tables at a seedy strip club while wearing a black leotard, shiny tights, black heels and red lipstick for a week until a man offered me money to go home with him and a stripper tried to give me lessons on how to upsell: Don’t just make do with cash — offer to start him a tab. Ask him if he’d like to meet one of the girls. Don’t call them dancers, call them ladies. Then she did her dominatrix routine on stage in something resembling an Aeon Flux outfit. I really just wanted to hang out in the dressing room and watch them. One of them threw her cell phone across the room upon learning her boyfriend had spent all their rent money. On what, I wasn’t sure. Then a woman called Luna, who was the mother of a five-year-old boy, made the sign of the cross and said a blessing over her plate of spaghetti in front of the large makeup mirror all the girls shared. Her glittered breasts dangled precariously close to the marinara. I took cigarette breaks every fifteen minutes or so, and a stripper told me I should quit because smoking would ruin my good looks. I didn’t know I had any such thing, and I told her I didn’t care. I kept smoking for a couple years, but I took a job at the Gap a couple weeks later. I folded some shirts for a week and didn’t sell a single pair of jeans.

I wanted to be a journalist, or at least a copy editor, but I’m a bad speller and terrified of interviewing. I can’t write fast enough. I want to learn shorthand. I want to write a book. I want so much. I have wanted so much, but I have so much else.


Visceral

By Mary Hendrie

Essay

Visceral: Of or pertaining to the viscera.

Viscera: The organs in the cavities of the body, especially the abdominal cavity.

Viscus: Singular of viscera

Viscous: Of a glutinous nature or consistency; sticky; thick; adhesive

Vicious: Addicted to or characterized by vice; grossly immoral; depraved; profligate

I could go on looking up definitions of words all day. My vocabulary is so lacking. Visceral, though. That’s a good one.

This word keeps cropping up lately, mostly when people describe their reactions to dramatic events. A visceral reaction: instinctive, possibly even impulsive, wild, presumably a strong response. An animal moment. A moment in which we are not just in touch with our guts but ruled by them. One with them. We are intestines.

[Go ahead. Allow yourself to get strange. Maintaining normalcy is exhausting.]

Visceral is a car wreck, the way time slows down, the way we have no clue, no matter what we tell the police and the insurance adjustor and the other driver, no clue what we did in that split second that allowed us to live. We just remember spinning.

My theory, and I always have one, is that we use these words to reflect more of what we wish we were than what we actually are. We are so goddamned civilized, or at least on the surface, with all our methods and tools. With all our evolution, we are standing up straight, even at an unnatural incline in our shoes, and we are buttoned down and made up and watching the news and trying not to cry because it will damage the five-minute-makeup job we have perfected. I cannot cry over Iran because I will have to explain myself, and I didn’t bring the makeup to patch up, and there is nothing crazier than crying at your laptop because someone across the world got beat up by a cop.

Civilized people know these things happen and do not cry about it.