Last week I gifted porn star Ashlynn Brooke a wire potato masher she had listed on her Amazon.com Wish List. She ought to have gotten it by now. Most porn stars keep Wish Lists on Amazon.com in hopes that fans will buy them gifts. Most of the items on their Wish Lists are expensive and indulgent. Some of the porn stars will return the favor by mailing gift-givers an autographed glossy or a Polaroid photograph of themselves using the gift.

And while I can very easily imagine Ashlynn Brooke mashing boiled potatoes, milk, and butter in a glass bowl—pornographic films tend to involve some mundane daily activity that eventually curtails into equally mundane sexual activities—I cannot imagine her eating mashed potatoes. I cannot imagine any porn star sitting down at a dinner table and eating mashed potatoes. But I’m pretty sure it happens.






I was going to publish a piece about porn star Amazon.com Wish Lists. That’s my job, I guess, to bullshit about mundane bullshit.

I compiled several porn star Wish Lists for your reading pleasure. Formatting the piece was not fun. I somehow successfully added safe-for-work  photographs of each porn star I referenced: Gianna Michaels, Shyla Stylez, Lisa Ann, Eva Angelina, Faye Reagan, Ashlynn Brooke, Alexis Texas, Sara Jay, Phoenix Marie, Kayden Kross, Penny Flame, Bobbi Starr, Claire Dames, Kylie Ireland, and Sara Stone, respectively. All the contemporary greats of the business.

The article looked pretty good and was ready to go. Very little of me in it. I thought it would be funny and informative. Porn stars put some comical things on their Wish Lists. Roomba robotic vacuums. Cuckoo clocks. Cases of Red Bull. Bondage tape. Bruise cream. Scuba diving equipment. Collapsible cupcake stackers. Cat nip. L.A. Lakers dog jerseys. Amy Hempel’s Dog of the Marriage: Stories.

It’s hard to wrap your head around porn stars being people too.







I ended up deleting the article. Thursday of last week—as Amazon.com was processing my potato-masher-for-a-porn-star order—someone very important to me got admitted to a mental hospital.

While I’m not as geographically near to this person as I’d like to be, this incident still rattled me to the core. I’m still processing it. I was not shocked when I heard about it; moreover, I felt relief. And fear. I spent Thursday afternoon, and the following weekend, doing not much of anything.

I wasn’t depressed or angry. I just needed some solace and stillness and healthy nothing-doing.

I had no desire to read or write or watch television. I didn’t care much about eating or working out or listening to music. I mostly paced around and stared at the floor and sat at the edge of my bed and thought all I could about this person. I considered all the thoughts about him I had let solidify and collect dust. I didn’t think anything twice. Real change was occurring. I was feeling closure about a great deal for the first time in a very long time.





I went ahead and deleted my Twitter account. I deleted my Tumblr page. I cleaned out my Gmail inbox, took several websites out of my bookmark cachet, and returned all my library books. I emptied all the trash bins in my apartment and cleaned the litter box.

I thought I might never grow my hair out ever again. I thought about sifting through my closet and whittling my clothes down to a week’s worth of shirts and pants. I thought about taking big risks and getting serious and starting to plan my life out. I took my dog for a long walk and tried to be patient with him for once.

I considered deleting every thing I had ever posted on this website. Every article and comment. I thought about undoing all I had done—all the marks, smears, and bruises I’d left—and the thought gave me a rush of peace. I wanted nothing but to look forward.

It sure is nice to have the ability to keep up with the whole world at breakneck speed, but it would also be equally nice not to have to bother with it anymore.

Does anyone know what I mean?






Correction: I returned all my library books this weekend save for one. The following excerpt, which has been taken from the introduction to the John Cheever interview in The Paris Review Interviews, Volume III, the one book I did not return, resonated deeply with me:

Cheever has a reputation for being a difficult interviewee. He does not pay attention to reviews, never rereads his books or stories once published, and is often vague about their details. He dislikes talking about his work (especially into “one of those machines”) because he prefers not to look where he has been, but where he’s going.






I suspect that, by now, the wire potato masher has already arrived in the Oklahoma City home of Ashlynn Brooke. I wonder if she even lives there most of the year. Most porn stars live in Southern California, don’t they?

Maybe my potato masher is leaning against Ashlynn’s doorstep, up against other packages of similar importance. Maybe she’s got a P.O. box. I haven’t the foggiest idea.

I wonder what will happen once Ashlynn gets it. Maybe she’s already got a wire potato masher. If so, will she toss the one I gave her—a gift from a complete stranger—into the trash bin? A trash bin that perhaps another total stranger gifted her? After all, Gianna Michaels has a touchless infrared motion sensor trash can ($91.78) currently on her Amazon.com Wish List. You never know.

If indeed Ashlynn doesn’t have a wire potato masher, and keeps the one I gifted her, will she snap a Polaroid of herself, autograph it, and mail it to me?

If so, Ashlynn, please understand that I don’t want a nude photo or anything like that. I’m not opposed, but it’s hardly the time for it. Plenty of that on the internet already. Instead, how about a nice snapshot of you, fully clothed, mashing away joyously at a bowl full of steaming potatoes, in the comfort of your own Oklahoman home?

I could really use it right now.

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JUSTIN BENTON has written for the Nervous Breakdown since 2009. He co-authored Board with Brad Listi, a literary collage released by TNB Books in 2012. He is now a father and is currently writing an ongoing pantoum poem you can find here.

41 responses to “A Brief Interval about Nothing”

  1. Gloria says:

    I know exactly what you mean. Exactly. 100%.

    This whole piece resonates with me, Justin. I’m kinda blown away.

    • Gloria says:

      I was at the grocery store two days ago. I had to buy a new can opener. While in the aisle, I saw a potato masher and thought of you, which was weird. For the rest of my life, I’m now going to associate potato mashers with a black and white gravatar of a man looking in a fridge.

  2. Becky Palapala says:

    I have a buddy (can girls say that? Am I being a dude right now?) who recently got divorced. His solution to the discomfort (or discomfit) is to sell everything he owns bit by bit, put his house on the market (rent it until it sells) and set out cross-country with no real plans but to survive with whatever fits in an ’85 Beauville (sp?) van he recently bought.

    On the one hand, I get it. Furthermore, he’s kind of a surf bum at heart, so it’s not too far-fetched.

    On the other hand, I figure, wherever he goes, whatever he’s got, there he is. With whatever he’s got.

    I did it a couple of times. The breakaway move. Or tried to do it.

    So, yeah, I get it. On the other hand, life is full of upheavals. Every minute that clicks by, there’s a new past. Some new monster. I mean, if you’ll pardon a tired metaphor, you might as well run from your own shadow. If I think about it long enough, that’s what I always arrive at. I said something similar in Gloria’s recent post. “Why not turn on the beast and draw your sword?” I think I said. Something about “making a stand.” Which is sort of melodramatic, but it’s how I have to think of it.

    Then again, what is it to make a stand? Maybe buy a Beauville van. I can call my buddy and see about a caravan.

    • I wonder: what’s the opposite of a hoarder? An ascetic? Is there such a term for someone who finds comfort in throwing stuff away?

      • Becky Palapala says:

        An ascetic, maybe. A minimalist? A monk. In some cases, maybe, a masochist? I suppose it matters whether it’s a self-punishment or a conscious choice or what…like is it self-flagellation or an adopted philosophy or spiritual/religious thing?

        I have no answer for you. Have you tried going shoe shopping? Maybe sand mandalas? Join the Hare Krishnas? I mean, I’m not trying to make light, or I am, but not because I don’t take it seriously. Only because I doubt the stuff and the TNB posts and the internet presence are actually the source of the discomfort. Why in the hell I feel brash enough to say something like that barely knowing you, I can’t say. But there you have it. It’s never the stuff.

        Also, I have an agenda. I don’t want you to stop writing here. Still, I don’t think it’s clouding my judgment.

        • Nah, make light. That’s what us Midwestern-raised kids are good at anyway. Casting a narrow eye in the face of Seriousness, especially our own.

          I recently bought a pair of Vans Sk8s and they have made me a little happier.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, see?

          Maybe you don’t need to get rid of stuff so much as you need to refresh your stuff.

          You should get a boob job.

          Go for it. I’ll still respect you. Imagine how well you’ll fill out your week’s worth of clothes.

          Look how well I handle even an ounce of emotional sincerity. You should absolutely take my advice.

  3. Ben Loory says:

    i have a dream where i live in a room. it has a hardwood floor and a bed and a window and there are trees outside the window and it’s sunny. there’s a single shelf that has about ten books on it, and a chair. and nothing else.

    (i am of course allowed to come and go from the room as i choose.)

    the internet, largely, sucks. but only because it gives us all exactly what we need to avoid each passing moment. i hope your friend is okay. you should write him a letter. he’d appreciate it.

  4. Greg Olear says:

    I have to admit, I would have enjoyed reading the porn star Wish List post. It astonishes me how you come up with stuff like that. And then want it to disappear.

    I also like the use of the potato masher image.

    And I echo Ben: I hope your friend is okay.

  5. Richard Cox says:

    I don’t always agree with your world view, Justin, but you sure as hell write well.

    All the best to your friend.

  6. Zara Potts says:

    This is a really moving piece, Justin.

    I hope she mashes those potatoes too.

    I hope you are feeling less shaken and I hope your friend is doing okay.

  7. Simon Smithson says:

    I’ve found the key for writing you want to delete is to say ‘Yeah, it was during my apprenticeship years.’

    You can sell pretty much anything to yourself that way.

    And it’s awesome.

    Best wishes to your friend, Justin.

    • Interesting you brought up the idea of the apprenticeship. I was thinking about that yesterday, right after I put this up.

      I suppose the word “apprenticeship” means different things to different people. Generally speaking, it’s a time when you learn rhetorical grammar and master your own language. It also seems to be a time of great metamorphosis, where the apprentice fully submits to the literary life, and lets go of remorse and guilt. This has been hard for me. But this life works. It is rewarding. It’s mostly darkness but the occasional flash of light is a divine thing.

  8. Deleting and cleaning out everything completely is a recurring fantasy of mine that I’ll likely never bring myself to actually do, but nonetheless is cathartic to reenact in my head. I like the way you describe it as a “rush of peace.” Like the line from Cool Hand Luke- “sometimes nothing is a real cool hand.”

  9. Doug Bruns says:

    J – This is a wonderful piece. You have successfully taken the common and mundane and made it into something wonderfully the opposite. My heart goes out to you and your troubled friend, yet I laugh at a porn stare mashing potatoes. You long for a piece with “very little you in it” and yet you write a piece about nothing but. It is a wonderful tension you have constructed–yet completely human.

    Why is it, in times of difficulty we look to simplifying our personal life? You delete accounts, erase your presence, retract. I have been up since 4:30 this morning, awakened with troubled thoughts of pressing matters. The first thing I seek is a way to simplify my life. I know the life span three hundred years was half of what it is now, that rats ran in the streets and fingernails were dirty and always remained so. I know that, yet sometimes–like right now–I wish my life were so simple as to just focus on survival.

    (Note the ruminations that a potato masher can bring out in a person!)

    Thanks for the essay.

    • I don’t know, Doug.

      In my 29 years on this planet I’ve only learned one thing: keep going.

      I went for a run the other day, a three-miler. I ran at 9 minute per mile pace. Not bad. I used to run 7:30 miles back in my early twenties, when I was younger, angrier, and stronger. It wasn’t the most satisfying run but it was a run. I was out there fighting through it. Climbing hills, sweating, flushing the dark shit away. It may not be pretty but it is something.

      Thanks for checking in.

      • A nine-minute mile, at 29, is an accomplishment, so don’t be too dismayed at your times earlier in life. The fact that you’re running says something, doesn’t it? I cannot, I’m sure, run a mile at all at this point, though I ran five miles/day when I was 25, only four years ago. And, it IS a great way to tune everything out. It’s when I was most stressed that I got my best runs.

  10. D.R. Haney says:

    A quote from the great Italian actress Eleanora Duse, who inspired Konstantin Stanislavsky’s creation of the Method:

    “If I had my will, I would live in a ship on the sea and never come nearer to humanity than that.”

    Ever since I first came across that quote, I’ve fantasized of living alone on a ship, or sometimes on an island, or sometimes in a cabin built deep in a forest, with no phones and no internet and no contact with anyone for any reason. My life in these fantasies is constructed entirely around writing, and there’s no concern about publishing and promotion and reaction to what I’ve written. Those poisons, along with all social poisons, of which there are many, have been removed.

    In any case, JB, this may be my favorite thing you’ve put up at TNB, for the little that opinion is worth. The title says it’s about nothing, but in fact I think it’s about everything. Meanwhile, I’ve only just noted that your gravatar is you as seen from a refrigerator’s perspective, which somehow reminds me of Nietzsche’s abyss that finally stares back, and which I mention for no good reason.

    • My critical acumen is at best wonky, but may I offer an observation about Banned for Life?

      Throughout the novel we see Jason constantly putting his faith and trust in other people and often getting diminished returns. Disappointment abounds in the story. If I could only be as brave and committed as Jason is, to people, art, and survival.

      All the same, I feel like I am unreasonably fortunate to have all the friendships I do have–as few and far between as they are.

      Funny you mention Nietzsche. I once spent several days listening to an audio book version of Thus Spake Zarathustra while working as a gas meter reader. Imagine that: walking from yard to yard, from one strip mall back alley to the next, with Nietzsche telling me to find my inner super man. Maybe after I get done with Dollar General and K-mart I’ll see if I can find it!

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I can imagine it. But what did the narrating voice sound like? It would take balls to do an audio-book version of Zarathustra. (I’m thinking Charlton Heston, or maybe Robert Mitchum.)

        I recently decided that my own friendships are few and far between, though I used to believe otherwise. Most people regard their “friends,” with a few exceptions, as expendable, to be discarded as they move into new phases of their lives. (Sorry, now that I’m with Jen — or Jeremy or whatever — you’re unnecessary, bye.) But, as you say of yourself, I consider myself fortunate where my friends have amounted to just that.

        As for your critical acumen, you’re spot on — scarily so. No one has ever said that about Jason before. I once heard him characterized as “impulsive,” which is maybe in the same territory, but even that much eluded me about him. I never analyzed Jason the way I did others in the book, I suppose because I was writing from his point of view and I assumed he had blind spots, particularly about himself, which I think is true for most of us. But, you know, naivete is often at the heart of what’s taken for courage, and I always did think of Jason as being on the naive side, even after he underwent so many ruptures. He’s a big kid, which definitely has many drawbacks but maybe — hopefully — a few advantages too.

        Anyway, thanks for that, JB. I never think that, by writing, I’m nailing something so much as I’m opening a dialogue, and I know that I stand to learn as much, if not a great deal more, from the result as anyone. And, no question, I just learned something.

  11. Mary Richert says:

    Yeah, I definitely get it.

    I would’ve been interested in the porn star wish lists, too, but I think you did a great job weaving that idea into something more complete and human than just a bunch of wish lists, which would have been a lot like the disembodied parts you see in porn. Or it would’ve run that risk, anyway. And what would the title have been?

    It’s good to remember that everyone is human.

  12. Brin says:

    It’s a beautiful piece, Justin. It’s funny, it reminded a fair bit of a spooky book I’ve been reading lately called, “Invisible Cities” by Calvino. I wonder if you know it. It’s very nice reading something like what you wrote. One of my favorite pieces on here in a long time.

    • Justin Benton says:

      I’ve enjoyed Calvino, especially the Marcovaldo stories. Particularly the one where he’s racing his family through the store with a shopping cart. That’s wonderful stuff.

  13. Megan says:

    Extremely beautiful in its absurdity. I thought this was straight autobio til we got to the mental hospital. Nice nailing the tone.

    I hope you had to search for all those porn star names. Or is that the normal amount of full porn star names a 29 year old American male knows? Huh.

  14. Very nice piece, Justin. I wouldn’t have guessed at the heartfelt portions of this reading the main site’s blurb. It was really nice to read.

    I often want to meet a porn star, but, really, meet the woman. Not watch her films or engage her “on-screen” personality, but her real self, the one that cries at Bambi. There’s a story there.

  15. I hope the person in the hospital is okay. I really enjoyed reading this and look forward to reading more of your posts.

    About the potato masher: Thanksgiving is coming up soon. Ashlynn has a mother who lives in an asbestos shingle bungalow in Oklahoma City with rocks in the front yard so that she won’t have to hire anyone to mow the damn lawn. The woman is a master in the kitchen. Of course no one knows this except her family because after being raised in Oklahoma City herself she never had the confidence or courage, really, to break free and run off. But Ashlynn did. Ashlynn fled to California. And she reads for parts in real movies. In the meantime, she makes a little money on porn. Her wish list? Well it’s all stuff Mama needs in Oklahoma. Ashlynn’s going home for Thanksgiving and she’s bringing Brandy and Tiffany, both of whom have been excommunicated from their churches, their families, everything. But Ashylnn’s mama wouldn’t do that. She’s a good woman, a loving woman. And thanks to you, they WILL be having mashed potatoes and potato filling, and sweet potato pie at Thanksgiving. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a pic of Ashlynn, Brandy, Tiffany and Mama all with sweet smears of potato across their mouths.

  16. jmblaine says:

    As one who celebrates all things absurd
    I was completely charmed
    by the left of left
    idea of this post.
    You didn’t
    post the quirky post
    you wrote about posting
    the quirky post.
    Brilliantly daft.

  17. Matt says:

    Damn, man.

    I’m glad you didn’t give up on this site, Justin, as your writing here is always sharp and superb, and your willingness to be the (often lone) voice of contention is a boon to the site and what makes it work. Though I will miss your oft hilarious Twitter deadpans.

    Hope your friend – and you – are doing all right.

  18. Jeffro says:

    Ashlynn Brooke looks like such a sweet, innocent girl . . . until you take off the Google Safe Search Moderate function. Then it’s Monster Cock in every orifice. Sorry, I had to get this out of the way before continuing.


    Paragraph IV. I’ve thought of doing much the same recently, and I did clean out my Gmail account. It was very liberating. Sort of like wearing no bra; or, sort of like not wearing a bra would be if I had breasts. Twitter: I have it, still don’t “get” it. I don’t think I ever will. I never login. It just feeds automatically from my website (now on tumblr). I bought a new electric razor, shaved my face fully and have continued all week. Something I haven’t done since I was 16 and could barely grow facial hair worth a crap.

    I took 75% of my clothes out of my closet and starting throwing them in the floor, then into an AmVet bag. AmVet is a military veteran’s group. They send you a bag, you fill it, then leave it outside on their designated pickup date. If you get rid of any clothes again and feel like Goodwill and Salvation Army already have enough of your old rags, go to http://www.amvets.org and request a bag. Very cool idea.

    I deleted every message I’ve ever received on Facebook and have been using it less and less recently. I deleted all of my status updates and 90% of everything I’ve had on there since December 2009. Also, very liberating. I actually hate Facebook for the most part. I still have it because I write for TNB. I think it’s a good way of promotion. Not a great way but it does help a little.

    So……. I know exactly what you mean, particularly about your dog. The internet, particularly social networks, seem to annoy me more and more every day. The bullshit that is. It’s almost like people don’t know how to have real friends in real life anymore; and why should I care if someone has a cold. I don’t give a shit. Why do I read it? I have no idea. I’m trying to stop. And yeah, I’m rambling here. But I feel ya’.

    Back to uncensored images of Ashlynn Brooke.

  19. Hannah says:

    Justin, just don’t give up talking to your friends. I miss you.

  20. milo martin says:

    hullo Justin
    existentialism writing at its best in the blog format…
    contextualizing and meta-contextualizing disparate images and sad thoughts, shattering the illusion…
    and albeit, i don’t know many porn stars by name and i’m not into blonds, i must admit
    i remember Alexis Texas with that supafine BIG derrierre…
    oy yoi yoi…

  21. Maura says:

    In the Soviet Union ,dissidents were regularly admitted to “mental” hospitals.i suggest you read “Anatomy of an epidemic”.The “doctors” in charge of these people are actually making these symptoms worse.They shouldnt be in charge of brooms,let alone peoples lives.

  22. […] Justin Benton sends a potato masher to a porn star […]

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