I’m very late to the TNB fifth birthday party, but I didn’t want to let it recede too far into the distance without writing a few words of appreciation.

It was late 2006 when I first heard of the TheNervousBreakdown.com. This was the first iteration, back when there were maybe twenty-five or thirty contributors writing mostly to amuse each other. Zoe Brock suggested I contact Brad, and she kept after me about it when my first reaction was lukewarm. After all, I was authoring a popular blog on MySpace, generating a large amount of conversation with every post, so the unimaginative guy in me saw no reason to branch out. Like I was really going to take the time to write a post that maybe only twenty people would read?

You

By Zoe Brock

Movies

YOU are a woman.

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

You are a woman.


ZOË BROCK is a Californian by way of Australia by way of New Zealand who was in Portugal when she started writing for The Nervous Breakdown. She’s writing a memoir called Growing Up Model, wherein she discusses what it’s like to not only look like a model, but to be one.


She had an interesting childhood.  Her mother showered her with affection; her fun-loving father did, too, and then had one of the (ahem) harder wishes to fulfill in his Last Will and Testament.  Her nanny was a trannie, which perhaps explains why she enjoyed making boys dress like girls.


Given all of that, it’s no surprise that she went to Burning Man.  And wrote about it.  Or that she prepared for it by hiking in neon crotchless fishnet bodystockings. Or that she digs the Diceman. Or that she writes dirty poems.


She often writes about love: love and loss, love and relationship-sabotage, love and more relationship-sabotage, love and homecomings, love and happy endings.


And speaking of happy endings: just because she needs to have sex doesn’t mean she will have sex with you.


In the past several weeks I’ve given a lot of thought to reinvention. This is, in no small part, due to the fact that I’m trying to completely reinvent myself as a woman, friend, potential lover, and as a participator on this weird, spinning ball.

The Retreat

By Zoe Brock

Writing

Friday, 5pm-

I’m holed up in a grand estate in Ojai, hiding from my life, pretending to be whole and happy, beset by hovering paparazzi in whirring helicopters that dance on the evening breeze as they try to steal a shot of the movie star next door.

I’m here, in a vast and ancient canyon, inside a rambling, Gothic house, feeling insecure and shifty, wondering if I belong. I’m not alone, you see. Oh no.

There are about thirty of me.

I’m part of a gaggle of writers fortunate enough to have the funds required to reserve a bed for the weekend. Except I’m actually not fortunate enough to be one of those writers with funds. I’m a blow in, a scholarship kid, a half-price wonder. The poor girl. I feel out of my depth, stupid, a black sheep. I wear my coat of shame. I question why I came here, what I’m doing, if I can hide away or leave.

I hear laughter all around me.

I look around at the kind eyes and excited, smiling faces. I hear snippets of conversation and begin to sense a common bond. I realize I’m part of one huge, pulsating, coagulated ball of shared insecurity, hope, humor and arrogance. We’re here because we can write. We know it. Sometimes we just forget. We’re all here to follow our leaders, to dance with our muses, to sit down and write.

This might just end up being fun.

Saturday, 6pm-

All over the house we are scrunched into chairs or crowded around tables, furiously scribbling or tapping on keys. If words need to be spoken they are whispered. Apart from a heated argument over breakfast about Richard Gere that turned into a fun conversation about genetically modified gerbils born without claws or teeth to make for safer insertion, it’s been a pretty mellow affair.

When we’re not writing we’re talking about writing. Or, we’re eating. We have a chef. It’s pretty fancy. I’m high on muse and an absence of chores and dirty dishes.

Throughout the day we’ve had classes with warm and encouraging teachers who gave various prompts and exercises that were both liberating as well as providing containment within a set of rules. It turns out I like having parameters and time constraints.

I dig the challenge. I feel competitive with myself. I fly.

This morning, for our first writing exercise, we were asked to make a list of masculine and feminine attributes and jobs, then we were told to pick a job and two attributes from each list to help round out a character of our opposite gender. The idea being that a character is more fully fleshed out, funnier and real if we incorporate attributes of the opposite sex.  We were given ten minutes to write, stream of consciousness style, about our character.

I chose a vain, burly fireman. His name his Hank. He is often perplexed and emotional. Enjoy!

 

I have a huge cock.

Sometimes I think that’s the only thing right with this world. This goddamn life. Sometimes, on bad days when I’m feeling low, I  look out the window at the city and just want to fucking scream, but then, if I choose, I can look in the mirror or down at the bulge in my pants and I feel reassured. Everything is going to be alright. I’m handsome. I’m packing heat.

I like being a fireman, sure. It’s ok. Fighting fires and rushing around is cool, I guess. But it’s the babes that are the biggest perk. The whistles and waves we get when we drive down the road in Big Red. The batted lashes, the smiles, the puffing up of breasts and wiggling of hips. This uniform gets me laid, yo’. Suckers.

The thing that gets me down is the death. It happens. I don’t get it. Sometimes we get there too late. We bust down doors and find bodies, perfectly still, externally unharmed, dead from smoke inhalation. Or worse. The krispy’s are much worse. The scars, the melted flesh. It’s a nightmare. The worst thing I ever saw was the body of a woman and her baby. A gas leak got ’em. She had been breastfeeding. They were just sitting there on a sofa like some kind of demented installation. The worst kind of fucked up nativity scene. Her tit was out. They were so still. I cried. I broke down like a chick. It was a fucked up scene and I’ll never forget it.

That’s what I see in my mind that makes me wonder about this world, this life. I see that mother and her baby, sitting there in that quiet room. I hear the sirens. I smell the death. Nothing, not even the fact that I have a huge-ass penis can take that shit away.

And that’s a crying shame.

Hank was a very illuminating exercise for me. It was the first time I attempted to write a fictional character of the opposite sex. I never play with fiction. Whatever you think of the piece itself, the prompts were an incredible tool. The ten-minute constraint was invigorating, there was just no time to mess around. The moment I understood that I would have to write from the perspective of a male character I heard those words and I was off.

I have a huge cock.

It’s good to know that while so many parts of me feel broken, they certainly aren’t dead.

If you’d like to try this exercise in the comment section below then I fully endorse it. Write a list of about 15-20 attributes and jobs for each sex and pick a couple from each list. Set the timer for 10 minutes and write like a crazy person about a character (or person you know) from the opposite sex. Have fun!

 

*** If anyone would like to join the incredible Marilyn and her lovely Writing Pad staff for the October 2011 High Desert Retreat in the Joshua Tree then please check out this link! I’m hoping to be there (and so is Hank). ***

My love affair with America was inflamed today as I sat at the bar of Margie’s Diner on the verge of the 101.

Lit up by determined, crimson letters flashing *Real Food* *Real Food* *Real Food* a man in a stained and faded hunting jacket stirred his coffee for the seventh minute and a waitress licked her lips and winked at me… and my heart skipped a beat.

I used to write. I used to write a lot. I wrote about everything that happened to me, the daily minutiae, the ups and downs and highs and lows. Hundreds of people tuned in when I posted online to hear about my sex life, my love life, my boozy escapades and narrow escapes, my darkness and light. And then one day I stopped. I got happy and distracted. I became enmeshed in a loving relationship and kept my stories safe and secret. I got caught up in caring for someone and making a home. I put writing aside. I stopped sharing the ups and downs. I held my cards close to my chest and even, over time, grew to distaste the idea of writing about my life. I became grossed out at all the TMI-ness of it all. The very thought of writing something personal provoked a Pavlovian gagging in my throat.

It was around two years ago that Zoe Brock first suggested I write for The Nervous Breakdown. We were in her San Francisco lounge room and I’d made it to about the space between ‘some’ and ‘how’ in the thought Maybe this will get me laid somehow¹ when I said ‘Zoe, I’ll do it.’

Departure

At half past five in the morning on a Wednesday Melbourne Airport is empty anyone but airline staff. The sun hasn’t yet risen, and the big bay gate windows face out into a vast darkness broken only by blinking red lights and the dim movement of the great shapes of planes.

Deserted airports are unsettling places. As many of the flights I’ve taken have been during peak traffic hours, I’m used to being surrounded by people; long lines of people, stretching away from the check-in desks manned by energetic, white-shirted staff with great skin, or waiting to be herded through the thin cream plastic gateways of metal detectors while security guards turn their heads away to joke with each other, but never with passengers, or standing bored at the boarding gate, the long blue-carpeted corridor and the sense of forward momentum that just being on a plane brings only a tantalising few steps away.

Sitting here all by myself is a little eerie.

I want to stay awake as long as I can, in order to reset to California time faster – if I can go to sleep eight hours into the flight from Brisbane, I’ll be well on the way to coaching my body over the line and past the worst of the jetlag on the other side of waking. But because I’m up so early, I’m already fatigued, and if I go to sleep too soon, I’ll end up setting myself back further. My plan is to sustain myself by drinking thin, complimentary airline coffee, the taste of which, inexplicably, I love anyway, and focusing on some writing I want to get done until it’s time to sleep.

The flight from Melbourne to Brisbane is OK, although Brisbane Airport is no place for a young man. Leathery middle-aged women with missing teeth and low-cut pink halter tops over their flat and freckled breasts and entire families resplendent in identical rat-tail mullets and Juicy Couture roam the halls, delighted with the presence of a solitary Krispy Kreme outlet staffed by a lone and defeated Indian man.

I make it through to my gate and find there’s no one here, either. Just a long concourse, clinical and neat in its white tiles and in its empty tables and chairs. It’s quiet; lifeless in a way that seems to have no expectation of ever being anything but.

Where is everyone today?

People arrive and sit in pairs and groups around the departure desk throughout the next hour. When boarding is announced and I take my seat on the plane to Los Angeles I wonder idly if there are going to be any young children sitting nearby. I’m situated two rows behind the main bulkhead, and as the plane starts to fill, my insides clench. Beside me is a family with an infant. To my right, a family with two toddlers. Ahead of me, two more families with young kids. As I watch, another two families, infants in tow, come down the aisle and take the rows across the aisle to my left.

‘Isn’t this nice!’ one mother exclaims to another. ‘All these families here! All the kids can play together!’

On cue, one of the younger babies starts to bawl, which sets off another on the other side of this grid of horror, this devil’s game of tic-tac-toe I have found myself imprisoned in.

‘Excuse me,’ I say to a stewardess as she walks past. ‘I see a seat up ahead is spare. Do you think I could…?’

Thank God, thank God, thank God I’m so good-looking, I think. She’s going to give me anything I want.

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she says, smiling professionally. ‘That’s Premium Economy. I can’t let you sit there. But there are some seats spare down the back. After take-off, you could go and have a look to see if there are any still free? If someone else hasn’t beaten you to it?’

‘Thank you,’ I say, and sink back into my seat for take-off.

As soon as the fasten seatbelts light chimes off, I’m up and moving. Like a hungry ghost, I fly down the aisle.

And I see it.

It.

An oasis of solitude – empty seat surrounded by empty seat surrounded by empty seat; row after row of unreserved space. With one smooth motion, I strip my jacket from around my shoulders and launch it through the air. It soars in a graceful arc, its empty arms lifting like the eagle wings of sweet liberty herself, and lands perfectly in the middle seat of one of the empty rows, a message to the thieves and jackals who couldn’t think as fast as I: mine.

That night we hit the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced, and my three empty seats bring me no comfort. High above the Pacific, one of my three blankets tucked under my chin, and my three pillows gently cushioning my head against the shakes and buffets of the squalling wind beneath our wings, I close my eyes and think  Goddamnit. I’m never going to get to sleep on this flight.

I am right, and my next chance to close my eyes and rest comes at LAX. I catch a fifteen minute nap there, and thank God for the opportunity to sleep on the connecting flight to SFO, even if its only for an hour or so. After I’ve taken my seat, a pale and tousle-haired hipster kid slinks his way down the aisle. He is wearing jeans so tight I worry for his future children’s IQ, and a loose beige cardigan that matches his perfectly dishevelled, scruffy hair. He sits next to me, and before I take my nap I wonder what he would do if I warned him that sometimes I scream in my sleep.

But I do not, and I’m sure I will be sorry for this later.¹

*

Arrival

It’s Wednesday, still, more than twenty four hours later, and I wake from a deep and dreamless sleep as we’re touching down in San Francisco and catch a taxi from the airport to my hotel. The Huntington is a towering old building just below the top of Nob Hill on California Street that I can only afford because of the cut-rate prices on Priceline.com. My room number is 11-11, which I take as a good omen.

‘What brings you here?’ the desk clerk asks as I’m signing in.

‘Halloween, man,’ I say. It is the first of a hundred times this week I will say this.

‘You came just for Halloween?’ he asks. ‘Really?’

It is the first of a hundred times someone will ask this.

I shower and unpack before heading down the hill to buy toiletries and food and coffee. I’m here. I’ve done it. This is my time.

At last, I will have my Halloween.

*

Inside Baseball

It’s Thursday, and Meredith texts that she and her friends are going to watch Game 2 in a bar in Glen Park. On arrival, I am greeted by a sea of Giants fans in orange and black, and a buzz of friendly noise. I order a drink, Meredith introduces me, and I have to ask the group: ‘So how do you play this game?’

The rules are explained to me, and suddenly the bar erupts as we score against Texas.

‘OK!’ A, one of Meredith’s friends says. ‘Let’s drink a shot every time we score!’

In the eighth inning, Posey singles up the middle. Holland walks Schierholtz and Ross to load the bases, then walks Huff. Lowe walks Uribe, Rentería singles to left field, and Ross and Huff score. In the space of five minutes, the Giants score six runs, and we decide it may be in our best interests to abandon the drink-a-shot-whenever-we-score rule. Instead, we start drinking freely, and when the game ends with us victorious, we pour out into the night looking for another bar.

This is much better than any Australian sport.

*

Before Halloween

Just as I’d hoped, Halloween is everywhere and by serendipitous coincidence, with the city in the Series, the streets are decked out in orange and black.

Everywhere I look, there are carved pumpkins on porches,  or toy ghosts hanging in store windows, or cartoon witches soaring on broomsticks through supermarket shelves.

It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

My first real taste of the day comes as I’m getting a haircut at a salon a floor above street level. ‘Oh, quick!’ Joey the hairdresser says and puts down her scissors. ‘The kids from one of the schools nearby are trick-or-treating! You have to come see this, you’re going to love it!’

She drags me to the window and from our viewpoint about the street we can see the long lines of kids, held in formation by the watchful shapes of teachers, dotted at regular intervals along the column, dressed in costume. Sunlight glints off astronaut helmets, off fairy wings, off the blades of cutlasses worn through belts.

I hate all of the children. Their bright and shining faces remind me that this could have – should have – been mine, and it never was.

Also, one of them has a bitchin’ Lady Gaga outfit.

I could never pull that off, and I know it.

Saturday night is Meredith’s all-girl football team fundraiser. Ten bucks at the door buys unlimited PBR, and Sue’s packing a giant bowl of Jello shots. Me and Zhu and Emily, Kate and Tara and Lindsey, and Lyn and Erin and Casey shout at the TV as the Rangers take the lead in Game 3 and beat the Giants. We turn to the bottomless PBR to drown our sorrow. Someone puts twenty bucks in the jukebox. The fundraiser tails into an invitation to a house party in the Mission, and we drag ourselves away from Stray Bar in Bernal Heights and work our way there across 18th, across Dolores, by bicycle, by taxi, by car.

The house party is being held by someone named Tersch, a werewolf with a kitchen full of Brazilians. She paints my face in black and red and shows me where the drinks are.

Zhu and I make it our unspoken mission to have more fun than anyone else here. We drink the unfinished Jello shots, we shoot Tersch’s whiskey, and when someone starts passing around a bottle of Jager, we can’t seem to avoid it. Twenty minutes into the party, Zhu’s doing a handstand against the wall and I’m holding onto her boots while she drinks a cup of water upside down to cure her hiccups. A nerd and a Native American and Cupid look on and laugh as Zhu proclaims her temporary illness finally fixed.

Somehow, a half dozen of us end up sitting on the side of the street, under a blanket in the bed of Cupid’s truck, crowds of hundreds of migratory Halloweeners laughing and partying and shouting out around us. Someone steals Tara’s crutch while we’re not looking, and I run across the street to ask security at the nearby street party if they’ve seen it.

I see a girl sitting holding onto a crutch and I think Aha! I’ve got you now!

Then I see she’s wearing a giant moon boot.

‘Can I help you?’ she asks.

‘Oh.’ I say. ‘Well, see, someone stole my friend’s crutch, and I thought… ‘

She looks at me, and with the honesty of someone who’s been drinking for about six straight hours, I say ‘I figured maybe you’d be the kind of awful human being who would steal someone’s crutch, but now I see that you have that big boot on, so you probably need your crutch, but I kinda hoped that whoever stole the crutch maybe thought it was part of a costume, because who steals a crutch? So I came over to check, but it looks like you actually legitimately need your crutch, and you didn’t steal it from my friend. Oh. Both of your crutches, I see.’

‘Your poor friend!’ she says. ‘I wish I could give her one of my crutches.’

‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Anyway, I’m gonna go.’

*

Halloween

It’s Sunday, and I’m going to meet  friends in a bar in Bernal Heights to watch Game 4 and grab a few quiet drinks. I catch the 22 to the top of the hill, and when I get off, the sky is still that perfect hazy shade of powder blue and ice-cream white.

I have no way of knowing that Bernal Heights is where people take their children for trick-or-treating. It’s like the whole suburban neighbourhood turns into a small town for the night – I crest the hill to see an ocean of people with their children, everyone in costume, wishing each other the best and knocking on doors. Jack O’Lanterns sit outside houses and stores alike; ghosts and witches hang from streetlights, the doors of haunted houses are thrown open to reveal thick cobwebs and polished skulls and grinning demons.

This is so perfect I’m almost on the verge of tears. This is everything I ever wanted from my childhood, and it’s right here. This is exactly how I pictured Halloween as being when I was a kid. I move through the crowd, taking photos, talking and smiling and never wanting to be anywhere but here.

*

Fear the Beard

It’s Monday night and Meredith and I are in the Mission. We’re sitting and watching Game 5 with two friends of hers. Lincecum is pitching what may turn out to be the game of his life – firing off eight innings of death from the mound. I wonder if he’s related to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and why his face looks like it’s always going to crumple into tears.

The ninth rolls around with the score 3-1 to the Giants.  Wilson takes the mound. He strikes out Hamilton, Guerrero grounds out, and Cruz takes the plate.

We’re watching the game on a TV with a delay of maybe two seconds, so as we see Wilson wind up for his final pitch and a roar suddenly goes up over the Mission, we know we’ve won.

Meredith and I take to the streets to meet some people I know, and the city has become a madhouse. Everywhere, Giants fans are roaring, running through the streets, slamming their palms down onto the horns in their cars. There are cops and roadblocks in the Castro, while people shout and sing and throw rolls of toilet paper over the streetlights. No one is inside; it’s like we just won every war that’s ever been fought.

Later that night, as I’m walking down Market Street, I come to a pedestrian crossing in front of a line of cars that goes back three blocks.

Unable to help myself, I yell ‘Go Giants!’ and the intersection explodes with the sound of people calling back to me and honking their horns. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The next day I read that people were burning mattresses in the streets.

Those guys party much harder than I do.

*

Jornada del Muerto

It’s Tuesday, and we’re in a giant open warehouse with a skull-headed DJ playing beats. For five dollars, make-up artists will paint your face with spray guns, shading paints, brushes and pads and pencils. But there are too many people here, and the line is too long, and the parade starts at seven. Zoe takes me to the DIY table and makes me up with black eyes, a hollow nose, and lipless teeth. She makes up Lexy too, before we head off for the parade. The organiser with giant hoops in his ears is bitchy about giving me my money back.

‘Well, I guess you’ll have to get here earlier next year, won’t you?’ he says.

Well, I guess that would help if I lived here.

Five of us start off through the Mission, following the route of the parade for Dia de Los Muertos, but Zoe’s stylist, whose name I can’t remember, hangs back to meet some people. Lexy and I and the other girl, another forgotten name, lose Zoe, then find her, then I lose the group. We stay in phone contact as I wander through crowds of the dead. Hundreds, thousands. Skulls and candles and offerings are everywhere. A giant black coach emblazoned with calaveras moves slowly through the mass of people that packs the streets. People hoist paper skeletons high on poles. Dead women in white dresses and dead men in black suits move through the crowd to the beat of graveyard drums.

I find myself at the head of the parade; dancers in long headgear shake and writhe under long banners. Somehow, I’ve overshot the mark of meeting everyone. There’s an anonymity here, all of us dead together and reaching out to offer a spark of life and love to that other black world that crowds in around us tonight.

I can’t believe I’ve never been to Dia de Los Muertos before.

This is the best week ever.


 

*

San Francisco

It’s Wednesday, and I start to realise just how much I miss it here as I walk into Walgreen’s for the first time.

I miss the way the light breaks over the top of houses in Bernal Heights and Noe Valley.

I miss the way coffee shops with dark wooden interiors and twentysomethings with yoga mats using Apple computers sit alongside Starbucks full of professionals with that wholesome mid-Western American look.

I miss that cold clean breeze that moves through the streets when the end of the afternoon starts to deepen into the start of twilight, and I miss the inexorable chill that signals the sun is going down.

I miss standing on the porch in the Castro and seeing the city spread out in front of me at night.

While I’m here, I walk from Chinatown to City Lights bookstore. I catch the Muni as much as I’m able, from Powell to Church, to the Castro. I catch the BART out to the Mission. I walk through Nob Hill, through the Mission, through the Embarcadero. At long last, I catch a cable car. I sit in Barnes and Noble and drink caramel lattes, and I want to be back here.

We drink at the Lex, we drink at the Argus, we drink at Stray Bar. We get coffee at Philz, at La Taza, at Urban Bread.

I get lunch with Angela Tung, and a bird relieves itself in my hair.

I sit in Dolores Park with Meredith, and we talk about traveling and settling down.

I buy a Giants cap at the Westfield Mall, and, unwittingly, take off and throw away the hologram on the brim that will result in it being worth money some day. I don’t care; I’m never selling this thing.

I promise myself that I’m going to get back here. Some way or another.

 

*

Los Angeles

It’s Wednesday, and I arrive, exhausted, at the Grafton, on Sunset. I make a couple of calls, send a few texts, and open up my laptop  to discover that the loose casing (my fault) has finally cost me. A wire is visibly broken, and my computer won’t turn on. I sit down on the bed and wake up the next morning.

*

My American Year

It’s Thursday, and my friend Erinn comes into town from Ventura and spends the day ferrying me around. We go to Olvera Street and I buy a bunch of Dia de Los Muertos souvenirs for people. I pick up a 50-piece jigsaw puzzle for my mother, suddenly acutely aware that I have never once brought her back anything from overseas.

Better late than never, right?

We head out to the beach and I insist we find a place where I can buy a yearly planner for 2011. My reasoning is that if I buy it in America, it will be a sign to the universe that 2011, for me, will be a year spent in America.

I’m wearing my Giants cap, and we pass a woman wearing the same as we cross the streets.

‘Go Giants!’ I say, cheerfully. The woman stares at me blankly as we walk past.

‘Who were you talking to?’ Erinn asks. I shake my head and make a note not to show off any more.

Then as we’re in line at Barnes and Noble, where I’ve found a planner I like, I see a guy wearing a Giants cap two places ahead at the counter. He sees me looking at my hat as I see him looking at mine. He doesn’t say a word, just gives me a silent, satisfied nod of affirmation. Erinn laughs beside me.

‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘I saw.’

*

The Usual Suspects

It’s Thursday night and I can’t help it; if I think of Hollywood I think of Los Angeles, if I think of Los Angeles, I think of Lenore and Duke. If I think of Lenore or Duke, I think of Los Angeles, and I think of Hollywood. It’s just the way it goes.

Lenore and Duke pick me up from my hotel and we go to Delancey’s for dinner. I like that this is where we go when we’re together in Los Angeles, like it’s kind of where you go if you write for TNB. There’s an empty place at the table for four, and we allocate it to Zara, who calls a few moments into the meal. The food, as always, is good. Duke gets the chocolate cake for dessert, and I am jealous, as his choice is superior to mine.

It’s good to see them, and it’s strange to think I just got here and already I’ll be leaving tomorrow night. On the way back to the car we pass a cat who wants to play with us, and we decide that Zara’s place in the group can be taken by our new cat friend.

I secretly cannot wait to tell Zara she has been replaced by a cat.

*

Departures

It’s Friday, and I’m hanging out with my friend Linz. I’ve stolen Ben Loory’s delicatessen, Greenblatt’s. This is his place, as far as I’m concerned, but I want the hot pastrami dip sandwich. I must have it. I can have nothing else. The waitress is from San Diego and makes idle chatter as we wait about how good San Diego is, but has trouble pulling out specifics.

‘Hang on,’ I say. ‘We’re going to settle something.’

I call Joe Daly and ask him what the best place in San Diego is.

‘My house,’ he says, sounding surprised that such a question would even occur.

I promise Joe that Zara and I will make our next trip soon, and we will come to San Diego.

The day goes by too quickly, and soon I am back at LAX. I talk in my bad Spanish to the woman in front of me at the security checkpoint. She is from Colombia and going to Wisconsin, of all places. She is old, with bad teeth and a shy smile. We sit together after going through the metal detectors and put our shoes back on. Something falls from her bag, a piece of paper, and I hand it back to her.

‘Gracias, senor,’ she says.

‘De nada, senora,’ I say in reply. ‘Que tenga un bueno noche.’

‘Si,’ she says. ‘Y tu.’

I have no idea how to say, ‘I’ve had one of the best weeks of my life and I don’t want to go back to Australia yet,’ in Spanish. We haven’t covered that at El Patio Spanish Language School. So I smile and go to catch my flight, and in my head, I am laying plans for my return.

This week I have had my first baseball game, my first Halloween, my first Dia de Los Muertos. I have drunk my first Old-Fashioned, eaten my first tamale, done whatever it is you do with your first Jello shots. I have seen people I love and don’t see enough, people I don’t see nearly as much as I want to, because they’re so far away.

I could do this week every day of the year.

 

 

 

 





¹ – correct.


I freakin’ love San Francisco. I mean, I love it.

It’s a weird hybrid of its own unique spirit and architecture and people, and the parts of my home town of Melbourne that make Melbourne, Melbourne. The trams, the street art, the tiny pockets of arts and culture, the live music, the bookstores (and the books)… the mix of parks and streets; green and grey. Progressive politics and e-commerce side by side; innovation and cultural projects and tiny bars down tiny streets that you have to know about to get to.

And, also, Zoe Brock!

In the early nineties I discovered a book that changed my life and it wasn’t Little Women. There was nothing demure, ladylike or well-behaved about The Dice Man and that is exactly why I loved it. It was anarchy and it was chaos. It was life on the edge. I read it the same way that I devoured pizza at 3am with a head full of vodka: quickly and with considerable mess. When I finished it I vowed to one day meet the author and buy him a beverage* of his choosing, and, through a series of odd little circumstances, here we are today.

Please enjoy, without further ado, a conversation with George and Zoë.

*No beverages were harmed in the making of this interview.

1. Most cats are smarter than most Americans because most cats like Vegemite.

2. Mothers are always right. Getting orthopedic surgery on a body part on the same day as your partner will make for a really funny (and drugged out) 48 hours. Then the drugs will wear off, whereupon you will discover the futility and pain of trying to have sex with each other and wish you’d listened to both your mothers when they told you that you were completely crazy for scheduling surgery on the same day.

3. Drinking Smooth Move™ tea when you don’t really need to is not a good idea. Drinking two cups is a disaster of leviathan proportions.

4. After witnessing someone throw something wasteful on the ground, particularly a cigarette, it is really fun to chase them down the street and politely say “Excuse me? Excuse me? You dropped something back there.” The offending litterbugs are invariably worried about their iPhone/keys/wallet for about 5 panic-fueled seconds, then really irate/apologetic/apoplectic/embarrassed/amused/abusive. It’s just as much fun to try and guess their reaction beforehand.

5. When handing out your resume at job interviews it helps to have the right phone number included. It’s best to check as soon as you write the resume, and not after an entire year.

6. Sometimes the most counter-intuitive things are the best for us.

7. Crutches suck. There is a reason humans have two legs instead of four.

8. I don’t know what I believe in anymore. Am I an atheist? An agnostic? A Buddhist? A tree-hugging, dice-rolling, naturist?

9. Buying chocolate eclairs earlier in the day in preparation for visitors who will arrive much later is not a wise move. There will be no eclairs. None. And you will want to throw up on your guests. Try not to.

10. Not being able to see Sarah Silverman’s inspired TED talk in which she tries to destabilize the PC world by mentioning the word “retard” over and over again is going to piss me off for quite a while. The fact that TED are not putting it online makes me want to revoke my membership but has resulted in a few good emails to their ‘technical issues’ email address inquiring about “the Sarah problem”.


That’s all. What about you? Anything good?



This year, as we careen towards Christmas like an out of control 18-wheeler, I’ve decided to take my hand off the wheel, lean back with a smile and enjoy the rush of impending doom with a gleam in my eye and a trigger finger on the RECORD button. My foot is off the brakes, kiddies. This puppy is gonna hit and there ain’t nothin’ I can do to stop it.

The Kitten

By Zoe Brock

Essay

This story begins on a dark and wintry evening and involves death and hormones.

You have been warned.

I was driving home, a passenger in my girlfriend’s car, with a belly full of El Mariachi’s and a head full of girlie-talk. Something mellow and groovy played on the stereo as the backdrop to a lively discussion about life and love and pain and weirdness and all the other good things girls talk about because we can.

Outside the air was cold and dark and crisp. Almost exactly like a burnt potato chip kept in a freezer. But not.

We turned a corner and drove up my street, past old Victorians with curtains drawn and windows darkened, storefronts and lampposts dripping with blinking Christmas lights. It was a very different scene from several hours before when my neighborhood was alive with multitudes of middle aged bourgeois pushing strollers to and fro the Whole Foods market, sipping soy lattes and waiting for the sleek, black Google bus to pick them up and drive them in luxurious, techy glory to their jobs south of the city; Jonahs in the belly of a streamlined whale.

The streets were glistening wet from an earlier rainfall as we approached my house. The music crooned from the speakers and our voices and giggles trailed behind us like happy exhaust fumes in the night. Good times, good times.

But then I saw it. Not a block from my front door. Curled up in the middle of the road, dead. It’s ears clearly visible, it’s body still whole.

A kitten.

My entire being deflated. My heart broke. All sound and joy rushed from my universe in one giant vacuumed slurp.

“Oh, no.”


I can remember distinctly the first time I saw a dead creature on the road. I was about five years old on a road trip with my dad and stepmother. The cat was fluffy, orange and white. There was no blood, no gore, just an empty body on a lonely highway, eyes dulled, ginger fur blowing in the breeze. It was a moment of lost innocence, my first understanding that life can be cruel and fleeting. I cried for a long time, a broken, devastated little girl in the back seat as we groaned and rattled our way along the country roads of New Zealand in our beat up, beat down Combi van.

As an adult, I have long wondered why humans don’t build underpasses into freeways; tunnels that deer, raccoons and other prospective road-kill could use to cross beneath our fearsome, ugly slashes of bitumen. Every time I see a dead animal on the roads and highways a part of me breaks.

Some would call me overly sentimental. I would tell them to go fuck themselves.


We pulled into the driveway. My body was home but my mind was still a block away. I could hear my girlfriend talking but I couldn’t process anything. I was obsessed. I was a five year old girl again, freaking out in that van.

Some platitudes were uttered and I was reassured that life was good. We said goodbye. I was alone. Alone and hormonal.

Nothing good can come from that combination.

I went inside my happy, hippy home and turned on the lights. I sat down on the bed and felt bogged down with heavy stuff. I yearned for some okayness. I wanted this to be different. I wanted someone else to deal with it, to tell me what to do, to make it all better, but my man was away on business; my go-to person was gone.

The five year-old inside me started to panic. “It’s still in one piece. Another car is going to hit it.” My adult brain tried to soothe my five year-old self, but she was having none of it. “We have to get it off the road! What if another little kid sees it? What if the person who it belonged to discovers it when it’s just a stain on the street?” I sat down. I stood up. I calmed myself. I lost it. I found it. I tried to breathe some serenity into my body. I meditated a little, tried to find my inner yoga. I began to compose myself. I imagined some grotesque visuals. I distracted myself. I heard a car go past and thought some gruesome thoughts. Then I picked up my laptop and IM’d my dude.

Me: there is a dad kitten outside on the street and I can’t get it out of my head
dead
it’s in the middle of the road and I wish you were here

Him: aw fuck
im sorry
does he have a collar?

Me: I dunno
it’s a kitten
it’s dark and I don’t want to get too close

Him: aww

Me: what should I do
another car is going to get it

Him: he’s obviously dead?
there’s a city organization for that
they will come get him

Me: who.

Him: i do’t know their name… but you can look it up

Me: I have my period and this is not going well for me

Him: they clean up animal bodies you can try to call SF Animal Control at 650.638.9029

Me: aaaaaaargh.

Him: he’s dead.. there’s nothing you can do. he’s not in his body anymore.
that thing on the street is just matter.
breathe.

Me: k

Him: i love you.


I called some numbers, Googled some names and came up with nothing. I tried to let it go. I left the room, turned on some music, put a smile on my face and told myself that everything he said was true. It was just a body, matter, nothing alive. Meat. I pottered around and kept busy for a while but it kept coming back. It stalked my brain. I let it in. What if a little kid sees it? What if it was only injured? What if it is ALIVE?

Me: question. I am just assuming the kitten was dead b/c it wasn’t moving when I drove past. what should I do?

Him: you have a few choices re: kitteh
1.. ignore it. if its dead… which it probably is since cats don’t like to sleep in the street… then there is nothing you can do. unless you want to go out there and clean it up…

Me: call me please


By the time the phone rang I was halfway there, running, determined. I would deal, and deal alone. I would either have to scrape its little body off the street or, preferably, rescue it and make it better. My heart raced. My boyfriend, on the other end of the phone in Texas, clearly thought I was insane, but he’d seen nothing yet. I ran faster. I could see it now, a lump on the road. I got closer, something seemed different about it. Was it in a different place? Had it moved? Was it alive? What was I doing? Suddenly I was upon it. Standing over it, looking down. My heart thumped in my chest and my boyfriends voice could be heard above the roar in my ears.
‘Babe? Is it alive? What’s going on?’
I stared down at the thing on the road. The unmoving thing. The fluffy, fuzzy thing.
‘It’s a beanie.’
‘What?’
‘It’s. A. Beanie. It’s a hat.’
‘Are you fucking joking?’
I burst out laughing. ‘No. Haha.’ Relief flooded my being. ‘No. I’m not.’
‘It’s a fucking beanie!? Do you know what you just put me through?’
‘I’m sorry, but I’m just so happy!’
‘A beanie.’
‘You’re allowed to give me as much shit as you like for as long as you like.’
‘Oh I will.’
‘It was just a beanie, baby!’
‘Sigh’.


Of course “The TNBlog” is not an accurate abbreviation, because spelled out it becomes THE THE NERVOUS BREAKDOWN LOG.  And that both makes no sense and, worse, evokes the memory of an 80s band that even I think is crappy.

You may observe that the new look of the site is a touch more formal than its predecessor. This…I hesitate to call it “facelift,” because I don’t want to equate TNB with Joan Rivers‘s grizzled face…this enhancement is due to the thankless hard work of Our Fearless Leader, Brad Listi, with a big assist from John Singleton, who is, as it happens, a hustler of more than just words.  Were TNB the planet of the Ewoks, we would put these two gentlemen in chairs and parade them around our Ewok village.  They are our C3POs.  And I mean that in the best possible way.