Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Last night, I was hanging around at home trying to catch up on things. “Things” – you know - the stack of bills and papers that need to be filled out and/or filed and what not. I’ve been avoiding it forever. I didn’t make much progress either, because after I ate some food, I got sucked into a showing of “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” on ABC Family. For some reason, they were showing it as part of their Christmas lineup. This is odd, because it has zero to do with Christmas. At any rate, this was the first time I’ve seen this movie since I was like 4-5 years old. Yet, I still remembered it vividly. It was the first movie I ever remember seeing in an actual movie theater. It was at the Hollywood Theater here in Portland in like 1975-76. The same theater where I would later see movies such as “ET,” “The Crow,” some French movie that would be considered porn, if it weren’t French and filmed in black and white (making it an art movie), and a professional bowling documentary. A group of kids from the neighborhood went and were guided by some of our older siblings. Going in, I believe I was well aware of the Peanuts story – having watched the specials on TV, but I don’t think I could’ve ever been prepared for this movie. It is so damn dark! The entire movie is a series of humiliating experiences for the downtrodden Charlie Brown. Somehow, he finds success in his school’s Spelling Bee, and moves on to bigger national competitions, until he ultimately loses over a word he should know better than almost any other. Now that I’ve spoiled the plot, I will continue. As a young child, I was affected by this movie in a very dramatic way. I don’t know if it’s because even as a little child I identified with Charlie Brown, or if his character influenced me. I was profoundly saddened through the entire movie. I wanted so badly for him to succeed. I ached for him in his bus travels to the competitions, which were long and tiresome and extremely lonely (immaculately portrayed by the solid and muted colors of the animation). The lack of adult characters in the Peanuts series also somehow added to the emptiness to this kid who hadn’t ventured away from his parents very often up to that point, but was now out without his. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I wrote a short fragment story for this blog yesterday entirely based on a piece of paper I found that had “Nineteen days after” written on it – so I guess it doesn’t matter.

Watching “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” last night got me to thinking. Why did/do I identify with “Chuck” so much? Maybe it’s because during my life, people have associated me with him. Maybe it’s my giant head. Maybe it’s my attitude and disposition. When I was in High School, the drama teacher asked me to play the part of Charlie Brown when they were planning on doing the musical “You’re A Good Boy Charlie Brown.” I was confused and did not accept, which turned out good for everyone, because that small community was spared hearing my singing voice (which as the game “Rock Band” has proven, I get booed off the stage), but Ken did a much greater job than I could’ve ever hoped for. My dad even painted a Peanuts related painting around the time I was born! It has stuck with me throughout my entire life. And watching it again, after thirty some odd years, it affected me exactly as it did when I was 4-5 years old, except now, I am much more jaded and used to all of those “lost” feelings. I found it interesting that at the end of the movie, Charlie Brown is so distraught over his failure that he shuts himself into his room and refuses to face the world again. Linus comes to visit and convinces him to go out again. When Charlie Brown finally goes back out in to the world, he sees his friends out and about. He sees some of the girls jumping rope and a couple of the boys playing marbles. They are all oblivious to him. This element of adding the stab that he is inconsequential to his already strong ache of failure is downright devastating. There are many important lessons in the Peanuts movies and specials, but I think the main one is a lesson in absolute humility.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Waiting for the Sirens' Call

Nineteen days after. “After what?” he thought to himself. Every damn day is the same. What’s the point in defining distinction to a specific day?

“I’m tired of your fatalism,” she said to him as she reached her hand out for a moment.

He looked down and agreed that she most likely was tired of him and his attitude. He felt like a cancer that was slowly eating away at all of his relationships. “Why don’t you go then?”

“I think I will. I need some air. I need some sunshine in my life.”

And with that, she turned quickly, slid her arms into her waist length jacket and opened the front door. She turned back to him from the doorway first and watched him for a moment. He was sitting on the chair with his elbows on his knees and his head facing the carpet, ignoring her. She thought about saying something conciliatory, but decided against it. Instead she walked out and shut the door quietly behind her.

He took a deep breath and finally looked up. He kept focusing on this idea that nothing ever changes. Why is that? She had made her ultimatum and nearly three weeks had passed. He couldn’t remember what she threatened or what the timeline was. Maybe his deadline had already come and gone. Maybe he was once again too late. He remembered some words similar to “next step” and “advancing” coming from her lips, but didn’t really pay any mind to them. She had always been alluding to such things - like anything progresses. She was always asking him what he was waiting for. Wasn’t the answer obvious?

He stood up and stretched. He did feel a pang of guilt that he was relieved that she finally left. He knew she would be back. Her stuff was still there. He walked into the kitchen and looked in the cupboards for something to snack on. There was nothing that caught his fancy. He wasn’t sure what he wanted anyway. He laughed to himself, when he realized that she would’ve known exactly what he would’ve wanted for a snack. She would’ve created something where from these random items and it would’ve quelled the pit in his stomach for another stretch of empty time. Why would she do such a thing? Was she simply trying to prolong his agony, or her own?

He left the kitchen and shuffled into the other room again. He had arranged the room, so that there was a variety of seating surrounding a large low square table. The side along the wall was lined with a couch, while the other three sides were lined with mismatching chairs. He flopped himself onto the couch and placed his cheek onto his hands. He watched the door over on the empty side of the front room. Maybe if he could fall asleep he could eat up some more time – to find a way to get through another day.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

You'll Never Get To Me

It was about this time of the morning five years ago when I received a very important call. I was at work on a Monday morning trying to figure out how I would get through the day. At 11:30, I was scheduled to head over to the dialysis clinic a few doors down from my job for another round. On that morning, I didn’t think I could do it. A few months prior, I had made an agreement with my transplant doctors that I wanted to try an aggressive treatment to try and increase my chances of finding a match on the transplant list. During the two and a half years I had been a dialysis patient, I first had to wait 18 months before being eligible for transplant, due to the cancerous tumor ridden kidneys I had had removed. Once they determined that I was cancer free, I was put onto the list. This was an amazing relief. I finally had something to look forward to. The team at the clinic was always so positive and upbeat, convincing me that it would only be a matter of time before I would get a chance at a kidney. They gave me a beeper and told me to carry it around with me at all times in case that call would come. It could happen at any time!

That first year and a half on dialysis was a complete nightmare. When I had my kidneys removed, I woke up in ICU and the entire world seemed like it had dulled like my life had been shifted slightly like a radio station just off its channel. I was released from the hospital the evening before Thanksgiving 2001. But the holiday did not inspire much confidence in me. I was so weak that I could barely make the 5 minute car ride to my brother’s for the family dinner. He had moved his girlfriend and their cats down from Seattle, just so he could be closer by for me. They were serving a seriously deprived of flavor or options Thanksgiving dinner just because of my condition. This filled me with guilt, or would have if I could’ve done anything besides lay on my back on stare helplessly at the ceiling. I had gone into this deal determined not to let it run my life, but here I was nearly comatose and ruining everyone’s lives around me. The following year and a half were filled with emergency room visits, serious infections and bad moments during dialysis, but somehow, little by little, I began to feel stronger. I managed to return to work full time, even with 4-5 hours of dialysis three evenings a week. I was able to make some trips like a couple of the March Madness trips with the crew and to Hawaii for Wil and Carrie’s wedding. I was even able to go out and do some activity again, like swimming and golf. All I had to do was get to the 18 month mark.

This was the progression. Always looking forward to and trying to ignore the daily struggle. Once I had the beeper, an entirely new set of problems arose to join the ones I was already experiencing. Damn it if that beeper didn’t start going off on a regular basis. I would quickly call the numbers that would appear and inevitably, it would be some girl who was trying to reach “Ted” or “Johnny” or whoever. Or it would just be a bad number. I started to dream about losing the pager or not being able to dial or read the numbers on the display. This is why I decided I had to break down and get a dreaded cell phone. During the first 6 months of being eligible for transplant, many of my friends went in to the clinic to get their blood tested in an effort to possibly be a donor. This was both an amazing honor and a major source of guilt. I did not want to have anyone go through surgery on my behalf. However, I also did not want to stop them either. In the end, no one matched. This is when I discovered that my blood panel was not matching with any of the kidneys that came and went through the mysterious list. They called me in to let me know that they were no longer very positive about my prospects. Maybe it was due to the 9 units of blood I had once needed during a hospital stay years prior, which creates antibodies, which are not good for donor recipients. This is when the decision was made.

The plan was to wipe my immune system out to help increase my potential for a match. By this time, though I was doing pretty well for the average dialysis patient health-wise, my body was suffering. I had dropped down to about 145 pounds and was losing stability and strength noticeably by the day. I felt like I had to go for it, because I was deteriorating and I was losing hope. I started taking the immune suppressant drugs they normally give to patients post transplant and they started me on monthly treatments, which if I remember right, were designed to clean my blood of its natural defenses. I would sit in a small room on non-dialysis days hooked to an IV and stare and try to sleep. This was something that was getting more and more difficult to do, which didn’t help my state. From the dialysis I was always itchy and twitchy and uncomfortable. I would read books all night (thanks to Ann for the stack of transformative books on loan!) or listen to music and then watch a few hours of the repeating early local news before heading to work. And it was one of those early mornings at work on October 18th, 2004 when I placed my head on my desk for an intended moment out of complete weakness and fatigue. My manger passed by my office on his way in for the day and asked if I was doing alright. For the first time, I told him that I couldn’t do it anymore, that I didn’t think I could make it through another round of dialysis. This was before I summoned up as much strength as I could and tried to shake it off and pretend that things were really okay. Another hour or so passed and my phone line rang. I answered it casually, because it was my direct line and only co-workers and family and friends had known that number. It was my transplant coordinator on the line and it didn’t faze me. He was very quiet and spoke very slowly. I assumed he was calling me to have me come in to have more labs done. Slowly it began to dawn on me that he was telling me that a kidney was available for me and I went in to shock. He gave me instructions on what I needed to do and told me to immediately go to the hospital. I set the phone down and actually finished the item of work I was doing. I sent an email to a bunch of my friends that the call had come and phoned my family and then went to tell my boss. That was it. I was on my way and was in surgery before noon.

Now that I’ve bored anyone that has read this far, including myself, I’m not sure where to go with this. It is a momentous date in my life. It’s Eric and Ann’s anniversary for one (Happy Anniversary kids!) and I have a putter with their wedding date on it leaning against the wall next to me to remind me. Oddly, it is also the name and date of a briefly annual series of mix tapes I made during High School. From 1986-1988, on October 18th, I made a mix tape for my own enjoyment and for some reason titled it simply “October 18th.” I made another one in 1991, after my mom passed away. These tapes were boxed away for years and forgotten until a few months before the transplant. Due to many nights of sleeplessness, I began rummaging through all of my things late at night sometimes. My goal was to get my things organize and to shed my clutter. I think subconsciously I was shedding extraneous stuff in case I never did get the call. This is when I discovered the four old simply titled tapes. I enjoyed hearing them again and recalled how I was trying to capture a certain vibe – a welcome to autumn thing, or a rainy day feeling. Needless to say, I started the series again (now mix-CDs) in 2005 to mark the date. I need to make one today to mark the occasion.

Speaking of music, those months leading up to the transplant were rough, but I absolutely lost myself in music. One song in particular stands out. Jeff introduced it to me late in 2003. The song is “You’ll Never Get To Me” by the post-punk stalwarts, Killing Joke. I had kind of forgotten about them, but suddenly they arrived with a self-titled album full off angry political anthems and this one song that instilled me with such resolve and hope. Here are the words with the chorus only at the end along with a link to the song:

“Sea of hurt, I feel the waves of pain
And now the tides come in again
I'm caught in a vicious cycle of despair
Give me the courage to face another day, oh!

I sat in silence, I was mourning
I said sorry a thousand times
I cried aloud to God from all my failings
But God seemed deaf as well as blind, oh!

We drank and smoked and talked until the dawn
We shared our problems and our food
Telling tales of courage and resolution
Through all the hardships we'd endured, oh!

Oh, sing a song of joy
Sweet childhood, never desert me
Time for celebration, oh!
Overcome with a sense of elation
I'll never let you get to me
Survival is my victory
Time for celebration, oh!
Overcome with a sense of elation”

This also leads me to where I’d like to go with this. I want to send my endless thanks and appreciation to my friends and family for helping me survive the dialysis years in order to be able to celebrate this 5th anniversary. So many people stepped forward to offer me a kidney and even tested to go through with it. So many people came to spend time with me in hospital rooms and dialysis clinics or just came to spend time with me. Sometimes too many! There were a few times when I had so many people in my hospital room or dialysis chair that I was worried they’d all get thrown out! I don’t know if I would’ve made it through my first month without kidneys, let alone those 2 years and 11 months. I just hope that someday I can repay all of you. Thank you.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An End Has A Start

Life happens. Isn't that one of those old cliches? Well, it has always happened to me and I'm done with it! I have spent too much of my time letting life happen to me, as opposed to going out and making it happen my way. I inherited my mom's gentle spirit and take a backseat attitude, along with my dad's tragic crumble under pressure and give in attitude. Let me tell you, it's not a good combination for taking a stand.

Currently, I am working two part-time jobs, neither of which has any kind of benefits, like health insurance or paid vacation time. I have been working long hours endlessly, through sickness and in health, with no breaks and no advancement. Meanwhile, I have continued to look for something regular, full-time, singular, different, and especially one that includes some kind of additional benefits besides pay. Last week, I found one. So, I am momentarily keeping the job I do at home, and I sadly gave my two weeks customary notice at the other. "Sadly," because I enjoy the people I work with. Unfortunately, the new job will not wait for me. So, again, I try and do the right thing. Continue with my commitment to the old job with my notice and still go in to the new job to show my new commitment to them. What is the result? Misery! It's terrible. I am trying too hard for everyone else. I am not doing the right thing for myself. The good news is, by week's end, if I survive, I will be back to two jobs (although more hours than before) and hopefully, soon enough, ONE job. The thing is, I am not that healthy. I am much healthier now than I have been anytime this entire decade, but this is literally driving me to the grave. And for what? So I can earn enough money to pay for my exorbitantly priced transplant meds and all the crazy meds that I take to fight the side effects of the transplant drugs? None of this makes me happy. None of this fulfills me. All it does is feed me and clothe me and give me a crappy place to live. This has to change and I will make it happen.

On the other fronts, I need to make more progress as well. At least I am starting to make headway, but I have a long way to go. There have been a couple of posts in the recent past about women that I have taken a fancy to. One of which I have made a mild effort to make a date with (or whatever) to little effect. Here again, I need to overcome myself and be definite and forward and ignore my doubts. I need to do this for myself. In the other case, I may be fighting an uphill battle that no attitude adjustment can change. But I will not forget and I will continue to work my way towards a chance. Any kind of chance. A chance to end this dark pathway I've been on and create a path that I can feel proud of. That is, once this upcoming week is over. I still have butterflies rumbling around my gut and I want to change them from ones of stress to ones of anticipation and excitement.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Great Northern


After yawning, I slowly raised the beer to my lips. “Why do I do this?” I asked myself. A Weather, the slow-paced, simple, yet weirdly enticing local band have cleared the Mississippi Studios stage and Rachel Stolte and Solon Bixler and company from LA band, Great Northern, began arranging their equipment onto the stage. What a change from when I first saw them at the Crystal Ballroom on November 10th of 2007. That much bigger venue was nearly sold out. They had a stage crew to set up their gear and someone to tune their instruments during their set. A set made up of the sweeping epic burners and ballads from their beautiful and stunning debut album, Trading Twilight for Daylight. At the time, they were getting some radio airplay with “Home” the weakest song on the album, which seemed to draw out an enthusiastic crowd. Great Northern took a risky angle and played the slowest and quietest songs from the album to open the set that night, but it paid off in spades. It was one of the most intense and captivating shows I have ever seen. The songs were much bigger and better live than on record and the set-list continued to build and build flawlessly, never allowing attention to wane. It was also one of the few shows I’ve gone to alone. I remember inviting a handful of friends who had never heard the new group, nor seemed interested in finding out about them. I had also hoped to take along a certain someone at that time, but that never panned out either. So, there I stood alone, amongst hundreds upon hundreds of people.

Some things don’t change. Here I was again, alone, about to watch the same band (with a different rhythm section) perform. The usual invitations to come along were extended and even a hopeful, but important invite to my favorite pharmacy gal. She didn’t show, or she showed early and bailed, because I didn’t arrive until late (I know, I know, but it eases the sting a bit) after witnessing a depressing Timbers loss at PGE Park earlier that evening. While watching A Weather close up their set, I considered dumping the scene myself. I was extremely tired from working way too many hours and from the aforementioned game. Then, I remembered that set from two years prior and how magical it was. Then again, the band had changed (gone was their smoking hot bassist!) and the big crowd and the buzz of anticipation in the air. Instead, the tiny and not even half-full Mississippi Studios was hushed with conversation between the several handsome couples spread out sparsely across the main floor and up above in the balcony. I started to hum the opening song from their new-ish sophomore release, Remind Me Where the Light Is, to try and keep my mind on target.

The random play of songs finally cut off and the band that had never been behind the curtain was ready to entertain us. A few strikes of the guitar strings and a bit of feedback blared out as Rachel said hello to us and announced their presence. That first song was the one I was just humming, “Story,” and the words came to my lips like they’d always been there:

“Tell you a secret
Tell you a story
About someone inside
Pass it around
Get you some glory
And don’t forget to tack on a lie”

I started to cross the floor toward the stage. The music was all that mattered now and the more upbeat and streamlined sound on their second offering was just what I needed. I wasn’t sure how this show would go, but they would not disappoint. Instead of the larger than life moments of the prior show, they made this one intimate, yet no less intense. Where before the atmospheric songs from album one seamlessly segued into one another, this one had them bantering directly with the few of us in the audience, while they prepped for the next tune. Rachel took the opportunity of the setting to wander out onto the floor – off the stage – and sing to her audience directly. Eventually, she and Solon wandered over to the side wall of the room away from the front to play an unreleased ballad on a piano pushed into the corner and out of the way. This was special. The entire set was new material from the last show. I am biased when I say this, because I love their two albums, but they are a must see! I have seen hundreds and hundreds of bands over the last 25 years, and am fairly jaded when it comes to the concert conceits and traditions. It is always refreshing to be surprised and amazed and to go home energized, instead of worn down. By the time I drove home, I had forgotten that I had been there alone.

Who wants to join me for the shows this Thursday and Friday and next Monday?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Inside of Love

It’s been a long while since I’ve sat down and tried to write. About a month and a half ago everything on my computer was lost to a virus, which was contracted thanks to one of my stupid jobs. Not surprisingly I never bothered to back anything up, or save anything to an outside source, so I lost everything. I had several years’ worth of writing tidbits, short stories, true stories and even seven chapters of a long abandoned novel. Instead of getting angry about it, I just shrugged my shoulders and went on with life. The only thing is, ever since, I have noticed a slowly encroaching dark cloud surrounding me. First of all, I have allowed my work situation to grow wildly out of control. I have two part time jobs, which theoretically should total between 40-45 hours a week between them. Instead, now I am working essentially every waking hour of each weekday, save for the moments that I’m traveling to and from each location. I have always been someone willing to go the extra mile for those who I work for, but I have never identified myself with what I do to make a living. I did manage to get away for a few days two weeks ago for my High School’s 20 year class reunion. It was a lot of fun and despite a lot of ambivalence and some apprehension, I had a great time! Oddly though, during my nightmarish drive home in stop and go traffic, I felt a strong sense of sadness. This sadness seemed to have no source. I have no idea what could have caused it. I had a good time and had a chance to catch up with some old friends, but here I was feeling sad. Things didn’t take a change for the better, when two nights later; I was driving home fairly late at night and turned right off the freeway onto an off-ramp only to plow over some sort of creature that jumped onto the road directly in front of me. The moment I saw this small creature’s dark shape and glowing eyes (no clue what it was), I swerved dramatically, but could not avoid hearing and feeling the crunch of its tiny skeleton underneath my front left tire. I drifted home slowly after my indiscriminate killing machine plowed into this poor scared once living being, feeling like my head would explode from massive guilt and the increasing volume in my self-questioning of where my life is headed. I feel like I’ve painted myself into a corner that I cannot escape from. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt like I had nowhere to turn after making poor decisions, but I received a second chance nearly five years ago when I received a cadaver kidney the same morning that I had finally given up. At that time I vowed to myself that I would become a better person in every way possible. In many ways, I have. I am, overall, a much more positive person. I am much wiser when it comes to finances and keeping my affairs in order. And I have devoted myself to helping my brother through his nightmare ordeal by trying to make his life as tolerable as possible. Yet, recently, it all feels like it’s slipping away. I feel like I’m losing control of things. I have allowed stress to put the squeeze on my life and a constant nagging feeling of worry. I do not know what to do.

Then, the plot shifted. Last weekend, I saw a woman who sent chills down my spine. I was in a social environment, where I barely knew anyone and normally would have bailed quickly – being that I am not the most outgoing person. Instead I lingered and planned on how I could meet this beautiful person – to see her amazing smile up close. I kept glancing at her as I worked my through the group introducing myself to the strangers on my way toward her. She proved elusive – seemingly moving through the crowd at the same rate I was. I felt like she was always as far away as she possibly could be, while still in sight. Unusually though, I began to believe that she was returning my quick glances with some sort of positive energy. I cannot convince myself that this could ever be true, or possible, but I almost believed it. She seemed to know everyone, but didn’t seem to be there with any one clique. Her easy calm and casual demeanor built up a serious longing in me. To cut the scene short, I finally managed to win an introduction, but due to circumstances, that is all I managed. This would normally be no big deal. Actually, it would be par for the course. Another pretty girl that I was attracted to that I made no show of interest to, other than maybe a disturbing amount of staring. This time though, her visage has stayed with me. I still have butterflies rumbling around in my stomach after such a brief encounter a week later. I can say that only two times previously in my life have I been affected like this. That head over heels loopy madness and a complete loss of appetite or any coherent thought. I don’t understand it and I don’t like to admit to myself that I have a hole in my life. When I think about her vivid smile, a ray of light breaks through that dark cloud that has been enveloping me and makes me think of possibilities instead of corners and dead ends, yet I still don’t know what to do. There is not a likely scenario where I would ever encounter her again, but I could try and force the issue. I do know someone that could put me in touch with her, though it would be more uncomfortable than actually asking her out – something that has never come easy for me. It doesn’t help that I feel like a combination of Frankenstein and Bigfoot wandering around this planet as a curiosity. Much like the time in the early 90’s when a bunch of my old co-workers and I were at a work lunch at Red Robin and I had ordered the Monster Burger. When the waitress brought the order for the 12 or so of us, she called out: “Monster? Monster?” and it was only me who raised a hand. I don’t know what to do.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mirror in the Bathroom

I hate taking showers at the gym after working out. Sure, there’s a moment when the sweat gets washed off in the cold weak stream coming from the faucet, but almost immediately the sweat returns due to the massive amount of literally stinking humidity of the locker room. When I get my clothes back on, I always realize that no matter how hard I try; I never get fully dry – making my clothes uncomfortable and every thing about me unpleasant. This is especially true on hot summer days. I actually feel dirtier after the shower and dressing than I did prior to the workout when I step outside and the sun is blazing down. This was one of those days. Luckily I was on my way home during the latter part of a weekday evening commute. Unfortunately, I was on the bus and it was packed and I’m pretty sure the driver had the heat on.

I put on my headphones and started my player. The slowly building feedback of Jawbreaker’s “Shield Your Eyes” tickled my ears before crashing into the opening line: “There was a sun once and it lit the whole damn sky.” How appropriate, I thought to myself. I adjusted the volume to be loud enough to drown out all extraneous noise, but not so loud that everyone around me suffering through the commute would have to jam along. My forehead was beading up with sweat and it began to run into my eyes. I wiped my hand across my brow and the sides of my face in a feeble effort to stop it. I readjusted myself in the window seat of the bus, and put my bag on my lap to make room for any boarding passengers. I flipped through my bag in an effort to find some reading material, but was distracted by a small bleeding abrasion on my index finger. I’m not sure what had happened, but it had been there awhile, because some blood had been smeared and began to dry onto the side of my hand. I pulled a corner of my towel out of the bag and wiped the freshest blood from my hand before getting lost in the music.

This bus trip was regularly about a half hour and this day was no exception. It seemed longer, because people kept loading on, but not exiting. And the heat! There was no hope in stopping the sweat beading up all over my face. People started filling up the aisles from the back all the way to the front door and for some reason no one was sitting in the open spot next to me. I know I’m not the most handsome person, but I try to be polite. Maybe my stink was simply overpowering. I grabbed the sleeve on my t-shirt and sneaked a whiff on the sly. Not too bad actually. I had put on fresh deodorant and taken a shower just a short while before, even if I was getting drenched in sweat. This was disconcerting, which is strange considering that I am generally disconcerted when someone does sit by me on most days.

Another stop: more people load on and try and squeeze past the mob blocking the entry way by the driver. A friendly looking older woman spots the opening by me and starts to head in my direction. Yes, this must be the reason. People didn’t want to take the seat in case someone needing the seat boarded. This made perfect sense. As she approached I pulled the headphones off and shut down the music. I decided that I should be welcoming and friendly. I looked at her and smiled a friendly nod of invitation to sit next to me. Instead of returning my welcome, she focused her eyes hard on mine, sneered and then continued moving her way by my empty seat and upsetting the crowd smashed into the narrow aisle. This was ridiculous! Now I officially had a complex. It was bad enough before that – having always felt like kind of like a big Sasquatch-like beast – but now, everyone was willing to forgo a semblance of comfort in order to completely avoid me and stand awkwardly smashed among anyone else. This trend continued the entire trip and I had no idea what to think. What did I do to these people? I smiled at the people around me, I use subtle hand gestures to present the open seat and all I got in return was averting glances and silence in response.

Mercifully, my stop arrived. The transit center was a welcome site, not only to get my cramping legs moving again, but to get away from this weird scene. I folded the transfer slip in half and left it on my seat. I swept my hand across my forehead again and threw my bag over my shoulder. I was getting irritated by this shunning I was experiencing and stomped down the three steps and onto the sidewalk. I was instantly confronted by what seemed to be transit security. This was just what I needed.

“May I see your transfer ticket please?” he firmly inquired.

I gazed at him with complete disdain in before angrily replying, “I am not on the bus, nor will I be boarding another bus, so why in the hell would I need a transfer ticket?”

He started to respond, but cut himself off after taking in a deep breath. I pointed at the bus I had exited and told him that I left the ticket on the bus in case someone else could use it. My anger was continuing to build, while his demeanor had changed more into confusion. He nodded his head and walked away. In turn I stormed off in the opposite direction, even more confused, towards home.

I spent the entire walk home racking my brain, trying to understand what had just happened. None of it made any sense. I thought to myself: “It's one thing to be cast aside as a freak in certain situations, but a bunch of adults on public transportation? And why today and not the day before, or the week before that?”

At the end of my destination, I stormed up the stairs to my apartment and slammed the door shut behind me. My aggravation was growing, but at least I was home. I took a deep breath. Set my bag down on the floor and headed in to the bathroom. It was time to take another shower. I needed to regain my sense of normalcy. That was when I caught something in the corner of my eye while passing in front of the mirror in the bathroom. I stopped, turned and moved in for a closer look. There was dried blood smeared all over my cheeks and forehead – almost like war paint. This changed everything.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Life of Riley

Everything in front of me was moving from the bottom up – flickering like TV’s used to do when they were not quite picking up their single from the antenna, or when a vacuum cleaner was running nearby. I tried to close my eyes and breathe deeply to let the sensation pass, but the sense of motion only increased my discomfort. The sounds of a millions conversations at once still burned my ears, along with the muffled and distant sound of random music from a jukebox. No song ever stood out, but the repeated “NA NA NA-NA-NA-NA-NA!” from Bryan Adams’ “Cuts like a Knife” is what is in my head now. My eyes and throat were sore from the cigarette smoke that fogged that basement bar. My plan had been a simple one. I was going to just stay for Happy Hour and then head home and get some rest for the weekend. Instead, what ensued was a seeming competition to see which one of us could buy the most rounds of drinks for each other; Ryan with his pint of Knob Creek and Diet Coke, Skywalker with his yellow dotcom drink and me with my IPA’s. Every time Skywalker came back with a round, it meant that we each owed him, and so on and so on.

Earlier that day I was fretting over the last Christmas present I had left to buy. I had no ideas, but after several stores and several aborted notions, everything fell into place. I had found what I thought was the perfect gift, thanks to a random memory of something she had said in passing a month or so prior. After that, I spent an hour or so at a hiring agency taking timed computer tests and interviewing for a full-time position crunching numbers at a small office. It had been maybe ten years since I had gone through the job interview process and I was very uncomfortable. Somehow, everyone seemed to like my awkward sense of humor as if I was putting on a show, as opposed to just being an awkward and unbelievably nervous. Somehow I did well on their ridiculous and useless tests. Things were looking good that I would return to the five-day-a-week grind, whether I wanted to or not. Meeting up with the gang at the L.O.R. for a few drinks during Happy Hour seemed like the perfect remedy to relax and prepare for the weekend visit. Moments before opening the door and heading down the stairs, I received the call I had been expecting for the last day or two. What would be the plan? Where would we meet? What would we do? Instead it was once again a cancellation and an apology and an “I’ll call you soon.” I shrugged my shoulders after the brief, but unsurprising phone call and headed in to forget about things.

Despite lying uncomfortably on my bed watching the ceiling move with increased speed with each dry blink of my blood shot eyes at 4am, I felt a sense of freedom. It had been a long time since I had treated myself to this kind of abuse and it was liberating. I allowed myself to push away all of the pressure that I managed to let push me down for the last couple of years. This was the first time that I remembered the liberation I felt after I received the new kidney and was jacked full of rabbit adrenaline steroids. This was a feeling I wanted to share and wanted to maintain, except maybe without the too much to drink part.

In the end, I did not get that job and I never received another call from her again. I sometimes ponder what I did wrong with each situation, where I felt that I was doing well. I like to learn from my mistakes, but am not sure what the lesson was with either of these – besides losing faith in what people say and do. Instead I choose to remember how good it felt to be entirely too fucked up on a Friday night and start a weekend happy.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Only Prescription...

Sometimes, during my day to day activities, I’m prone to develop crushes on particular women who I’ll encounter on a fairly frequent basis. A few years back, there was a nice and attractive woman who worked as a cashier at my regular grocery store. She will forever be known as the “Sweet Sweet Checker Girl.” She was so pretty and friendly and fun. She made easy conversation and seemed very genuine. After months of her ringing up my groceries and seeing my bad habits and such, I managed to learn a little about her as well. I learned that I really liked her. Eventually, I managed the nerve to ask her out, while she scanned some treats I was buying to bring in to work the next day, for which I asked her advice. I made this move after asking a few close friends what they thought I should do and how I should go about asking her out. I never feel good about asking someone out. I feel like I’m committing some sort of crime. This feeling clearly shows that I have issues, but that can be addressed some other time. At any rate, most of the offerings I get from my male friends essentially amounts to things Trent would say in the movie “Swingers.” There is always a specific strategy and game plan and a message to let me know how “money” I am no matter the result. On the other hand, without fail, the message from my female friends is to “just be yourself.”
On the one hand, I sometimes sigh in the face of the message I get about me being “so money,” but I do find the game plan part of the hints to be helpful. However, the “just be yourself” advice simply confuses me. If I am to “be myself,” then clearly I would never have a shot. Just being myself has led me nowhere in my twenty some odd years of being someone who wouldn’t mind having a relationship. Also, for anyone that knows me – or has known me – when have I not been myself? The answer could be the few times I’ve duped some woman to hang out with me. Once the “being myself” part comes around, those relationships seem to deteriorate in some strange friendly way. They always peter out quietly. I am clearly better at being a good mate (as in friend, buddy, etc.), than I am at being an actual mate. Case in point, the Sweet Sweet Checker Girl turned me down when I asked her out. She had just found herself engaged the weekend prior (I have incredible timing). Oddly enough though, she thought so much of me that she continuously updated me on the wedding plans and eventually she showed me pictures of her wedding. Before she finally quit her job at the grocery store, she gave me a hug and said that she would miss our conversations.
Well, I’m at it again. I have developed another similar relationship. I am hoping to ask my latest hopeful flame out this week to a show ("flame out"...interesting). I made an effort to flirt and get to know her on a personal level recently. I found out that we may have similar music tastes and that she loves going to see it live. This gives me a game plan and allows me to “be myself” in an area that I am most comfortable in. Additionally, she works tangentially in the medical field, which could also help. During my very involved medical history I have found that I exude some sort of strange confidence in hospitals, clinics and doctors offices. Will this mean I am “so money”? It remains to be seen, but it always feels unlikely.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rubbing Doesn't Help

There are a lot of times that I would like to somehow send all of my friends and loved ones the albums that are most important to me at a particular moment. They would act as a letter - a letter that would be far more descriptive and comprehensive than any I could put on paper. I have made hundreds and hundreds of mix tapes and CDs for people over the years to somehow capture this strange urge I have to share my passion. I find so much in music when I lose myself in it and I become obsessed with trying to communicate this same feeling. If I were to send everyone a CD today, it would be the 1996 one from Magnapop and their aptly titled "Rubbing Doesn't Help". I highly recommend anyone and everyone to track it down immediately.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Max IV: The Final Chapter

May 8, 1998:

Feeling a bit lucky to find a seat on the MAX downtown during the Friday evening rush hour, I start to wonder what kind of freak will end up sitting by me from the next stop. Usually, it’s some old woman who seems appalled at my very existence, or some drunk fuck who likes to spread out onto my half of the seat, rubbing his stained fur-lined jean jacket all over me, while chattering incoherently about something incoherent. I’ve never been able to figure out why they call the Light Rail Train “MAX.” The “Metropolitan Area Express.” What is that? Are they kidding? I think maybe it’s a generic name for the strange beings that you’re sure to encounter while riding, and has nothing to do with the name of the train itself. Maybe the “MAX” printed on the outside of the train is a warning. Actually, the commute on the train everyday isn’t so bad. Mostly, there’s just everyday people and it sure as hell beats sitting on the freeway going nowhere, but today I’m just not in the mood.

Much to my surprise, an attractive girl decides to save me from my usual fate. As she sits, we make eye contact. I try to force a smile through my natural scowl. I’ve been trying to smile at women more frequently. Anything to improve my status as a lonely single guy. In response, this girl beams back and lightly nudges me with her elbow.

“How are you?” she queries with genuine enthusiasm.

Unable to reply with words, due to shock, I wave my hands aimlessly in the air and look at her with a confused expression. Eventually, I shrug my shoulders. I don’t lie well. I quickly turn my head and look down at the magazine that I have sitting on my lap. I try and keep the image of her alive in my mind. She’s wearing a bright white T-shirt and some gray sweatpants. She was carrying an athletic bag over her shoulder. It is now sitting at her feet. She must’ve just finished a workout. She has a tired confidence about her, the kind of satisfaction that a cathartic workout can give. Damn, she’s cute. Absolutely, adorable. Her eyes, dare I say, dazzle with some kind of energy, as if she has made a pact with the devil to easily recruit unsuspecting chumps like me.

She leans forward and pulls a magazine out of her bag. I glance over at her. Her light brown hair is slightly mussed and very soft. The direction of her hair seems to flow effortlessly over her ear, and the ends begin to curl back toward her earlobes, framing her face. Her eyes look nearly closed as she focuses on her magazine and situates herself. The lids of her eyes are so smooth and supple and her eyelashes so long, I begin to lose my already tenuous grip on reality. Her eyelashes tangle, ever so slightly, as she blinks. Each blink seems to occur in slow motion.

“How are you?” I stammer without warning. Instantly, she glances over at me with her head still tilted forward. Her mouth is open a little bit and she’s smiling. Her smile draws my eyes to the tiny lines that frame the ends of her lips. Blood floods my face. My body temperature has risen to about eight times its functional capacity.

“I’m glad it’s the weekend,” I hear her joyful lilt float through me.

I begin to shake. My heart pounds uncontrollably and I tug my shirt away from my chest. I begin to hyperventilate. I actively try and slow down my breath by holding it for a pause every time I exhale.

“What are you reading?” she asks, as she bumps my shoulder again with her forearm.

“Um, it’s called, uh….” I can’t speak! I have completely forgotten how to talk! I show her the cover.

“Oh, the Utne Reader, I’ve heard that that’s pretty cool! Where did you buy it? I’ve never seen it anywhere.”

Oh, no.

“Uh, over at the, um, that bookstore…you know, the, uh, big one….” I fumble in answer.

Her smile somehow grows. I tug at my shirt again. I am staring into her deep, dark blue eyes, and she is looking back at mine. For a moment, I feel as if I am floating miles above the ocean, seeing the sun glitter off of the various blue shades of the rippled surface of the water. A chill goes up my back. My eyes start to sting from not blinking.

“Powell’s?” she asks.

“Oh yeah, Powell’s. Yes, they sell it at Powell’s.”

“How is it?”

“Powell’s?” I ask for clarification.

“No, silly, the magazine,” she laughs.

“It’s pretty cool.” I look down at the pages, as if to demonstrate it’s powerful draw.

“Oh, okay,” she trails off.

Snap the fuck out of it! I am better than this!

“It’s a sort of a compilation of writing from various independent magazines of all sorts presented thematically each issue.” That’s a bit more like it.

“That does sound cool, and impressive,” she says as she flashes her eyes playfully.

My fear and nerves are starting to turn into excited energy. I think this girl likes me! Doesn’t she realize that I daydream about this kind of thing, never believing it could happen?

“What are you reading?” I ask, just as some guy stands directly in front of the seat we’re in. The MAX is absolutely jammed. This guy’s overcoat is dangling between us and a sour smell fills my nostrils. I also hear some mysterious growling noises coming from the coat, but try and ignore them. She leans back, never losing sight of me, nor me of her. I see her tongue poke lightly at the left side of her mouth just before she closes it. Her smile remains. I grimace and shoot a glance towards the guy’s coat wondering if I am the only one hearing the growls and smelling the stench.

“It’s just a crappy Rolling Stone,” she sighs.

I smile and ask her what happened to Rolling Stone. Why did it turn into something so terrible? We both shake our heads in silence.

The man with the jacket moves. I regain the sweet scent of her hair. I take in long deep breaths in order to absorb her aroma and to keep myself as relaxed as possible.


I start to fiddle with the rubber band on my right wrist, which is near her left knee. I am hoping that I can somehow find a way to ask her out, without sounding like an idiot.

“Is that a reminder for something?” she asks, as she sticks her index finger under the rubber band. For a brief moment, her skin is touching mine. The entire world stops. I truly begin to realize how important each moment in life really is. How I don’t appreciate the beauty and majesty of the world all around.

“No, it’s just there…huh huh.” Not the Butthead laugh! I suppose if you joke around enough, use it enough, it becomes a part of you. Memo to myself: stop the Butthead laughs. I don’t have the heart to tell her that the rubber band is meaningful to me. It does act as a reminder – a reminder of someone, of lost hopes and dreams, of my biggest mistakes.

I cross my feet at the ankles, in an attempt to relax my tense body. I am so pumped up! I have to ask this girl out. I just need to figure out how and when to pull it off. I start thinking of questions that might lead me to the key one. My throat starts to constrict and my temples pound. I glance outside the MAX and try and take in the tranquility of the fresh mist outside. I look back at her. Our eyes meet again. She is pinning down her lower lip with her upper one. Her eyebrows are raised and her eyes, as a result, are fully open. The sheer beauty of her expression nearly reduces me to tears. She looks down, but still toward me. I try and follow her eyes, as if I’ll lose a part of my soul if I don’t. She presses the bottom of her right foot against the bottom of my left one. I take in a fast gasp of air from the surprise.

“Boy, you sure have big feet!” she laughs, as her hand brushes my leg. This is so weird! This is so strange! No really, this is unbelievable! How can I not ask her out? How can even I blow this one? Even I have something to work with here. Maybe this year won’t be so bad after all. Maybe this is some kind of cosmic birthday present, surprising me a day late.

“No, my feet really aren’t that big. They’re pretty average.” A little more enthusiasm would be nice here. Don’t get too cool. “Um…” I start to speak, but I am not able to focus on anything to say. Now seems like the time I’ve been waiting for. Waiting for so long. She takes a quick breath. I know. I can ask her name. I can do the introduction thing.

“My boyfriend is about your size, and his feet aren’t this big.”

Boyfriend. Of course she has a boyfriend. No girl this unbelievable could be without a boyfriend. He’s probably really cool too. He probably has a good paying job, which is fun and self-actualizing. He's probably active and in superb shape. He’s most assuredly confident - at ease with himself and his surroundings. Even with all of that, she’ll still most likely still break up with him at some point, because he’s just not good enough for her. Boyfriend. What a bastard! He gets to hear her opinions on everything. He has the chance to learn her views on music, books, politics, religion, and whatever else may come up. He gets to enjoy her sense of humor. He’s lucky enough to hear her speak of times from her past – good and bad. He gets to hold her in his arms, when she needs to be held.

“He must have small feet,” I mumble, barely able to hold back the devastation.

“No, I’m the one with small feet!” she says with a smile as she looks down for a second, before making eye contact again.

“Yes. Yes, I suppose you do,” I say flatly, as I close my magazine and set it in my bag sitting on the floor. My stop is a way off, but I want off now. I grab my bag and set it on my lap. Without looking at her, while twirling the bag’s shoulder strap around my fist, I say, “It’s been nice talking with you.” My heart has dropped into my stomach. My teeth are clenched. Fuck it! I still have to do something. This is too much to take. I have to at least try.

“I know what you just said, but…I don’t suppose it’s too much to, um, ask if you’d like to go out sometime?” I can almost see the words floating out of my mouth. I wish I could grab them and pull them back in. I want to hide them away forever. She looks deep into my eyes with a very serious focus. I avert my eyes. “You are so very beautiful,” I mumble half-heartedly, while I stand up. I take a long step, which puts me near the door. I look at her again. About twelve people are staring at me, save for our friend in the trench coat who has moved to the seat across the aisle. He seems comfortable making squealing noises, while staring at the helpless victim next to him.

“Thank you,” she says, as she looks down at her magazine. “That’s really sweet, but….” Believe me, I know. You wouldn’t want to waste your time with me anyway. Having to put up with my constant fear and paranoia. Seeing all of my confused and pent up anger. I would not be worth your while. Why would you ever want to deal with me? You’d have to hold me while I bawl my head off every night, due to my countless insecurities. I have nothing to offer you but frustration. Believe me, I know.

“I’m sorry,” she quietly begins. “I hope I didn’t….”

“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have put you in that position.” I cut her off. I look at one of the people watching all of this. They turn away. The girl’s smile is gone. I already miss her smile. The MAX stops and the doors open. People start to flood between us in and out the door. I try to smile to her.

“Really, it was nice to talk with you, and I’m very sorry,” I say sincerely as I turn to the steps.

“Thanks! Take care!” she beams, as she waves.

I am outside in the mist. The doors close. Thanks for what?

I throw my bag over my shoulder and stand still. The MAX starts to move. I look in through the window to where I was sitting. The girl is reading her Rolling Stone.

Already forgotten.

for more MAX misadventures check out the links here:


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Promise

It was a late night back in the summer of 1991. My mom had come downstairs to talk to me. At that time she was very ill. Several months earlier she had both of her kidneys removed due to cancerous tumors as the result of a genetic disorder that had been passed to her from her mom, which was then passed on to my older brother and me. The biggest problem with her surgery was not because her kidneys had been taken, but that they were taken too late. The cancer had already spread into her renal veins and then into her lungs and spine. We didn’t know the extent of the damage on that night, but she knew that her time was limited. The reason for the late night talk was that she wanted me to promise her that I would always be diligent and stay ahead of our genetic syndrome. To always monitor the potential growth of damaging tumors and cysts throughout my body in order to avoid what had happened to her. Because the disorder had been discovered in our family when I was only 13, I didn’t have a choice when it came to making appointments for CT scans and X-rays. But in 1991, I was an adult, and recovering from traumatic series of surgeries. My brother had been an adult when he was first diagnosed and avoided keeping up with the progress of the disease, because he felt that if there were no symptoms there was nothing to worry about. Having been through numerous surgeries and procedures during my young life, and having to drop out of college before nearly dying that year, he was up in Seattle living a healthy and vibrant life. In other words, I could understand the appeal of his position and I think my mom sensed that. I agreed to her request anyway - knowing that she knew best.

Since that talk, I have kept up with my promise. My mom did not take care of herself, because she was too concerned about the health of her two sons. If she had made her check-up appointments the way she had always ensured that I did, she might still be here today. If my brother had followed her advice, he might not be in a wheelchair and struggling with the minutiae of daily life that we mostly take for granted. On the other hand, I am doing better now than I have in years, because of the early detection of problems through constant check-ups.

Yet, here I am today. I went to see my nephrologist today to make sure my transplanted kidney is doing well. It has been 4 ½ years since my transplant and life has been pretty good. The strange thing is that I didn’t partake as I usually do during my appointments. I didn’t tell her about the recent pains I’ve been having in the new kidney, or the sharp pain I sometimes feel in my abdomen. These things may be nothing, but this is becoming a pattern. I told her about my brain scan in March and that I was instructed to call the office for the results a few days later and that I still haven’t. I’m not sure what is going on, but I find that I don’t care to know anymore. I already know that I have (at least) five cysts in my head and that someday I’ll most likely have to have some surgeon drill in there and try and remove them. I just don’t want to think about it now. I am used to having bad headaches every day. I can wait till they get intolerable. While I was in the waiting room this morning, trying not to stare at my favorite receptionist, I was reading about how the radiation a body can absorb from a single abdominal CT scan equals 1.5 years worth of X-rays received from the sun. This doesn’t seem good to me considering that I am nearing my 90th CT scan this fall. This info just made me laugh. I've always wondered if these damn tests are what will eventually get me. I don’t know where my head is these days. I don’t know if it’s that I don’t care anymore, or if I am simply worn out by being on a leash to a team of specialists, or if I am afraid of losing the small bit of independence and health that I have received from this new kidney. That last one may be the problem. I know that I am sick of being sick. I have had it with pills and scans and tests and the endless medical expenses. Sometimes I like to make believe that I am healthy and strong and that I don’t have a huge crush on my nephrologist’s receptionist. It all seems so wrong.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Kim the Waitress

Portland, OR Autumn, 1993

“Let’s go there!” Jonathan shouted over the loud stereo rattling the loose doors of the old white car, while extending a finger in front of my face.
“because the charm of her smile and the depth of her eyes radiated softly when reflected in mine”
“What?!” I responded as I slammed on the brakes in reaction to Jonathan’s point.
“yet eventually we realized sadly that I couldn’t suit her nor could she suit me”
The rusty carcass of the old Buick careened across two lanes of Weidler and slammed into the sudden steep slope of the short driveway cut into the sidewalk, throwing the two passengers across the front seat. The music shorted out for a moment before continuing.
“but I know, I-I know, an assurance of perpetual love was quite impossible”
I veered the car diagonally across the parking lot and floated into a space opposite the front entrance of the old Farrell’s and shifted it abruptly into park.
“when only 80 percent of what she wants can I fulfill”
I sat at the steering wheel, with the engine running, mimicking the naked skittering guitar line of the Spoke song in anticipation of the big booming conclusion. Jonathan stared at me expectantly holding his invisible drumsticks. One of the speakers dropped out just as the full band kicked in.
“and I content myself with the few months we had!”
With that, I pulled the key back and removed it, cutting the music off suddenly. My door screamed as if in pain as I forced it open partway, sucked in my gut and slid onto my feet. Jonathan was already out of the car and moving towards the ice cream parlor.
The wet blacktop reflected the beaming lights of the Farrell’s sign in front of me. Its frame of white light bulbs still managed to burn my eyes from its glaring image on the ground. My overcoat blew open as a breeze swept through the damp evening air. Jonathan stomped his combat boots into a huge puddle that had formed next to the wheelchair ramp by the entrance, trying to splash me. He began to laugh maniacally.
“Look out!” he screamed in his approximation of a Ronny James Dio howl.
“What are we doing here?” I asked, oblivious to his antics. “I haven’t been to this place since my birthday party in 1978. Are we going to the zoo after this?!” I added sarcastically, imagining myself riding in the backwards seat of the Plymouth family wagon that we had back then, waving at the drivers in our wake.
“Since it was too late to hit the DQ, this seemed like the next best thing.”
“I thought we were getting Blizzards so we could take one back to Isabel,” I stated, already knowing that this was, in fact, true.
“They were closed dog…they were closed,” he acted disappointed as he held the door open for me, while clipping my back foot with an uplifted toe. “Oops! Be careful there buddy!” he laughed with an over-enunciated voice, as I stumbled.
Earlier I had headed over to Jonathan and Isabel’s apartment a few beers after getting home from work. The idea was to go out to dinner, but none of us could decide what to do. After endless deliberation, Isabel had changed into a t-shirt, sweats, and her slippers, while the dusk had turned to darkness. We decided that Jonathan and I would grab something to go. The final decision was to go get treats at DQ.
I leaned my left hand on the cash register counter just inside the door, while Jonathan went straight to the gift shop shelves to mess with the hundreds of colorful toys on display. The narrow row of tables that lay straight ahead reminded me of that old birthday party during the 70’s. I couldn’t remember who was there, besides my parents, or what I had had. Jonathan began to wiggle a day-glow green rubber ball with long bouncing tendrils at me. Apparently, the wad had a high pitched voice and a low opinion of me.
“Charles sucks!” it told me.
I watched Jonathan bounce the object around before it met an untimely end with a bright blue plastic dump truck on one of the display shelves.
“Oh!” I softly exclaimed at the tragedy, just as a teenage boy dressed as a vaudeville performer approached us. He was wearing a Styrofoam hat - made to look like straw, a vest with vertical red and white stripes on the front over a white long sleeve shirt, and a black bow tie with tails. His long scraggly hair poked out from underneath the ill-fitting hat and his unenthusiastic, pimply expression were the only things keeping me from believing that he might twirl a cane around one of his arms and start tap dancing for us.
“Two?” he queried reluctantly. He was facing me, but keeping his eyes on Jonathan to his right, whose sizable frame continued to hulk over the squealing toys on display below him.
At the table, in the open dining room, around the corner from the front entrance, we both struggled opening the thin newsprint menus.
“It’s weird being back in here,” I reflected as I glanced at the light fixtures around the room. “I don’t think that it’s changed at all, except for the new and improved musty smell.”
“How do they expect us to eat our treats with this garbage all over our fingers?” Jonathan interrupted as he examined his finger tips and before sticking them into my face. “Look at this! This is an abomination! Now I have to go wash this sludge – this filth muck – off before I can even consider doing anything else!” he continued to shout around the empty place.
“There’s nothing on your fingers from the newsprint.”
“Filth! Muck! Who knows what else?!”
Our boy appeared again, leading three new characters into the space.
“I gotta hit the head, dude,” Jonathan said as he launched out of the booth. He had to turn his shoulder to allow the new customers by, who were left off at the booth next to ours in my line of sight.
The new arrivals consisted of a scruffy, tall and thin kid with hideous sideburns. The burns looked artificial - plastered across his boyish cheeks – having a darker color than the hair on his head. He sat next to a girl, who had slid into the booth before him. She stared off absently with her chin in one of her hands and her fingers gathered under her bottom lip. She had thick eyeliner on, short and spiky jet black hair and pale white skin. Her bulky furry dark purple coat tickled at her jaw line. The third member of their group was a non distinct guy who sat facing away from me. I tried to make eye contact with the girl.
As I sat looking at her, I was introduced to a faint sweet scent. Our waitress had appeared and was setting two small glasses of ice water on the table. I glanced to my left and saw a short red skirt underneath a lacey white apron and fishnet stockings wound around long luscious legs.
“Welcome to The Original Portland Ice Cream Parlour!” she smiled at me. “Do you guys want coffee?” she asked as she nodded to me.
I looked up at her glowing face. She wore shiny bright red lipstick which provided a sharp focus to her soft features. She looked airbrushed. There were matching red ribbons tying her curled light brown hair into different groupings that all hovered teasingly above her shoulders. My hand dropped from my face and began to examine the objects on the table randomly.
“I don’t know…um…”
“Oh, I’ll wait for your friend then,” she added with a smirk and twirled away. “I’ll be right back!” she called over her shoulder with a coffee pot held aloft in her right hand.
She stretched over the serving station to set the pot back onto its warmer. She held one leg up to keep her skirt from rising up and exposing too much, but enough to taunt my imagination. She began to fill three glasses with ice and water. Suddenly, I was jolted out of my daydream as Jonathan walked in front of my view of her beauty.
“Have you seen the urinals in there? They’re like six inches off the ground! I’m all, stooping down, hoping I can toss it in there! It’s fucking ridic!” he continued from where he left off, as I resumed staring at the seductive waitress. She was working her way back to deliver waters to the other table. “What?” Jonathan asked, interrupting himself. “Wait a second. What’s going on? What are you doing?” He turned his head and spotted her over his shoulder. “Oh, I see,” he realized, turning back to me, adding, “You are a dirty dirty man! Hoooo! Chucky is a dirty evil naughty boy! Naughty!”
His voice dropped to a whisper as she reached the table behind him. He hunched his head low and leaned in towards me. I looked over him and noticed that the girl in the purple coat was looking at us, distracted by our antics. She and I made eye contact before I looked back down at Jonathan’s wide grin and then at the stunning waitress who returned to our table.
“Hi sweeties,” she charmed us, “have you decided on anything? Do you know if you want coffee yet?” she said looking at me suspiciously.
Jonathan planted one of his boots firmly into my right shin, causing me to cringe and drop the spoon I had been twirling in my hand with a loud series of clanks.
“No coffee for me…thanks,” I spit out, while clearing my throat, and grabbing my wounded leg underneath the table.
She turned her attention back to Jonathan who ordered a banana split and an orange soda without hesitation and placed his filthy newspaper menu back into its holding place. I quickly began to scan the menu for the first time since our arrival. My eyes would not focus on any one thing. Jonathan had turned back around and started some sort of conversation with the other table. I sighed, trying to slow my thoughts down. I looked over at the waitress’ face, her chest, then back at her face, prior to hurriedly pointing my head back to the menu.
“I don’t know…” I said, just as Jonathan’s boot returned in full force with a loud pop. “What is your favorite?” I asked looking back up at her hazel eyes, while cringing from pain.
“If you want dessert…I’m fond of the milkshakes.” She began tapping her pen lightly on her slightly parted lips.
“I’ll have one of those then!” I leaped in loudly. “SHAAAAAKES!” then shot from my mouth unexpectedly like the legendary McDonald’s mascot beast Grimace stricken with Tourette’s syndrome. She held her gaze steady, choosing to ignore our (or my) idiocy. “Sorry, I, um… uh…make that a strawberry one. Yes, strawberry….”
She smiled inwardly, I’m certain.
“Anything else?” she sighed. We both shook our heads with furrowed brows.
“Thanks Kim!” I tossed in quickly, as she turned away, catching sight of her tiny name tag expertly placed over her heart. She glanced back and made eye contact for a second before walking off.
“Nice going chump,” jeered Jonathan.
“Dude, I wasn’t ready for this. I didn’t expect the waitress at a kid’s ice cream place to be smoking hot! What is up with the garter belt? Did you see that? She’s like one of those fantasy French maids!”
“Yeah! I did!” his voice cracked with sarcasm.
Silence overcame us for a few moments as we settled into our seats and sipped from our waters. My mind raced. Kim, the waitress, was all I could think about.
“Maybe they hired her to keep all the creepy fathers distracted so they’ll keep bringing their screaming kids to this dump?” Jonathan offered. “You should ask her out.”
“Right. I’m just the man for the job. I’m sure she gets play from hundreds of assholes a day…” I trailed off and dropped my face into my hand, lost.
“So what?”
I didn’t respond as I considered his question. What would it hurt to ask her out? That answer seemed easy: me. I could foresee, not just a polite decline, but a denial of humiliating proportions. I didn’t bother to think about what that would entail since she was approaching again with coffees for the other table. I tried to absorb the entirety of her figure in order to burn her image into my memory for all time! Unfortunately, I was too conscious of this goal, because I couldn’t focus at all.
Jonathan sat sideways in the booth with his back to the wall. He had his right arm resting on the back of the booth shared with the neighboring group. The solo guy just on the other side had partially turned around to address us.
“So, it’s her birthday today, so we wanna get the whole deal,” he whispered, indicating the purple coat girl. “Do you mind?”
Jonathan looked at me for a split second, pretending to commiserate, before answering. I looked at the birthday girl again. She continued to look disinterested with every aspect of the proceedings.
“Here you go, my darlings,” Kim had returned with the treats. “Can I get you anything else?” she queried as she looked at my empty water glass. “More water, honey?”
I blushed. Jonathan shook his head in disgust as he returned to his previous position facing the table.
Kim had a pitcher already in her left hand. She slowly leaned across the table to fill the small glass. Her perfume gently filled my nose as I slid down low in the booth, while my feet jumped around erratically like one of those wood block jig dolls that dance around on a plank. I made every effort not to ogle the closeness of her teasing cleavage, as I was ogling it. I had stopped breathing.
After the uncomfortably exciting moment had passed and she had gone away, I gasped for my breath. Jonathan’s grin widened from ear to ear as he jammed a hunk of sliced banana into it.
“Are you shaking?” he asked with a laugh.
I shook my head defiantly.
“Leave me alone,” I whined as I stabbed the straw against the table to pop the paper wrapper free. “She’s way out of my league.”
“All I’m saying is that if we played in our league, I would not be with Isabel. It’s all about overachieving. ‘Be all you can be’ and all that,” he air quoted. “Annie Oakley, dude. Blood in the water. Blood in the water,” he repeated like a mantra as he slid his right hand back and forth along the inside of his upraised left forearm – representing, presumably, a shark fin cresting the surface of the ocean’s water. “Blood-In-The-Water!” he emphasized by adding a pause between each word.
I pushed myself up higher after sinking down in the seat, so I could lean over the pink shake, asking myself what the point of this was.
“ANN-IE OAK-LEY,” he confirmed with an invisible rifle aimed at my face.
Our stand off was abruptly interrupted by an unbearably loud siren from inside the dining room. I spotted the kid who greeted us cranking on a handle to a box. That box seemed to be the source of the spiraling scream.
“AIR RAID!” Jonathan shouted, ducking his head down below the back of the booth.
I watched the kid’s hat fly off his head as he used all of the force of his skinny arm to spin the horn’s handle with determination. Then the kitchen’s door swung open, revealing two more vaudevillian kids high-stepping their way into the dining room carrying a tray atop a platform. The platform displayed a shiny silver trough jammed with countless multi-colored scoops of melting ice cream. This new duo, carrying the treat, suddenly broke out into a sprint, jolting their way back and forth across the dining room, as the air horn continued to shred our ears. Meanwhile, a thudding bass drum poked its way out of the kitchen, riding on the belly of yet another showman/ restaurant worker, who was clearly cast in his role due to his girth. In his High School daytime life, he was certainly the funny tuba player for the marching band. Jonathan peaked up over the bench just as the air raid siren slowly declined and our host joined the side of the drummer to march the quartet towards our tables. Apparently this show was designed to create intrigue and excitement for the potential recipient of the unappetizing sloppy treat piled on top of the bouncing display. The approach of the dissolving dessert and its four pallbearers triggered memories from my own birthday party. My eyes watered from over saturation. I had to place both hands on the table to keep the room from spinning.
Once the trough-bearers had reached their destination at our neighboring table and the noise had ceased (it was still ringing inside my ears), I saw the purple coat girl hang her head down and hunch her shoulders. Maybe she was being sheepish. I felt embarrassed for her. The trough was dropped under her nose with a bounce and a splash and the barbershop quartet began to serenade the victim with a version of a “Happy Birthday” song I was unfamiliar with. I could hear Jonathan humming along with the tune, while raising over the back of the booth to take in the scene. I looked around the restaurant hoping to spot our lovely waitress. I felt a surge of pride fill my chest, assuming her disdain for this tasteless show, because she was nowhere to be seen. I sank back down in my seat and examined the table, trying to be oblivious to the activities.
I began to ponder the idea of asking out the hot waitress. I closed my eyes lightly in an effort to focus – to try and summon up an angle and some courage and to shut out the action around me. “When would be the best moment to make my move?” “How would I do it?” “How could I make it memorable and intriguing for her?” “Would she be willing to give a dumpy chump like me a chance?” “How could I make her happy?” All of these questions looped around in my thoughts uselessly. My eyelids popped open with a sudden panic, realizing that I no longer knew where she was.
“She’s totally pissed!” Jonathan whispered to me, suddenly leaning in from across the table. “Look at her. Her face is red, but I don’t think it’s from embarrassment!” He tacked on as if narrating a silly sitcom. I could faintly hear a studio audience groan in unison. He was right though. She was breathing very quickly through flared nostrils. Her sneer stabbed at the sideburns kid next to her. He stood up from the table quickly; she slid over, and pushed herself upright by pressing down on the corner of the table, before storming off from view.
“Damn,” I blurted in monotone, watching her disappear. “Maybe I should go after her. Console her.”
“What is wrong with you, dude?”
“What? I dig the purple coat.”
“What about the waitress? Stay on target! Besides, she’s with Beck over there,” he indicated with a thumb over his shoulder.
Beck, and his mismatching hair and sideburns, was still standing by the table confused. The massive pile of ice cream scoops were drooping into a dark mudflow that was threatening to spill over the lip of the silver bowl. He looked at his friend who urged him to go after her with a gesture of his hand.
“What was that all about?” Jonathan asked the remaining guy, who was eyeing the birthday sludge with trepidation. He shrugged in response.
“Fuck if I know. I just got into town to visit and I’m supposed to stay with them.”
“Sweet! That’s bound to be fun.”
I made some gurgling sounds with the straw as I sucked down the last remnants of the shake and pushed the stem of the glass towards the middle of the table. I noticed the bill sitting on the edge of the table. Kim had drawn a bubbly heart onto the back of the slip. It sent a chill down my spine, despite knowing that she probably adorned all her receipts with this personal touch.
“Let’s get out of here,” I resigned.
“What about the chickie? You have to get in there.”
“I don’t know what happened to her. She’s disappeared. If she’s still around, then maybe I’ll see her at the register up front,” I suggested. I was still attempting to get together the nerve to at least tell her that…. Tell her that she’s…. I didn’t know what was appropriate.
“Maybe she’s taking a break from being so hot,” he offered.
Jonathan was on his feet, sliding an arm into his new leather jacket, as I fumbled through my wallet trying to pull together enough of a tip from the few ones inside. I had $5 total, so I dropped all of the singles onto the outside edge of the table next to the bill.
“Is that a heart?” asked Jonathan as adjusted himself into his jacket. “She so wants you.”
I slid the bill off the table with my thumb and followed Jonathan around the corner back to the gift shop entryway. Jonathan shot a look back toward the stranded guy remaining at the other table.
“Good luck tonight,” he blurted as he shot a double finger point in the guy’s direction. The castaway shook his head before pressing his right index finger to the side of it and mimicking his own suicide.
The lights had been dimmed up front, because they were shutting down for the evening. No one was in sight. Jonathan resumed fiddling with the toys for a few moments. I started to feel flushed thinking about what I would say if Kim walked around the corner.
The wait was becoming a long one.
“We should get the hell outta here. They obviously don’t want our money,” Jonathan suggested as he tossed a yellow super ball a few inches out of his palm over and over. “Why don’t you go find the waitress and tell her you’re ready to pay? Go get her!” His enthusiasm had built during this thought process, but I could see it wane immediately after he stopped talking. He closed his fist around the rubber ball. “I’ll be outside having a smoke.”
With that decision, he jerked his fist down and slammed the ball into the painted cement tile floor. The ball lunged back and forth from floor to the low ceiling panels and back too fast to see. The jackhammer rapidity of this action rattled out like machine gun fire erupting in the hushed silence of the entryway. Speckles of white powder floated down from the damaged ceiling panels.
“That should get someone’s attention,” I heard his voice menace just as I saw a puff of smoke dart in through the closing door as he disappeared.
The yellow ball was slowing its momentum and no longer touching the ceiling above with each bounce. I was able to chase it down and hunch over to grab it just as I heard some steps walking in from the dining room. I breathed a quick sigh of relief since I was able to snag the incriminating evidence before the potential arrival of Kim. I placed the ball into a clear plastic container holding rubber chicken key chains and watched the pimply kid appear and walk determinedly behind the L-shaped counter towards the register.
“Are you ready?” he queried as he made eye contact.
My shoulders hunched with disappointment, causing my hand to accidentally drag the rubber chicken container off the shelf and onto the floor with a small series of clacks.
“Damnit!” I shouted and shifted around to grab the mess up off the floor, bumping the shelving with my ass.
“Sir. Sir. Don’t worry about it. We can take care of it.”
I jolted upright, straightened my long black overcoat and stepped over the mess. I handed the kid a credit card and looked around to the dining room to see if I could spot the waitress one last time.
“Please sign here, sir.”
“Sorry about the, uh, mess.”
“Thank you,” he said, as I handed the receipt back to him.
The kid moved quickly away and out of sight. I could hear him tell someone to pick the toys up off the floor. Probably the chubby bass drum guy. I lingered in the dim light briefly and pushed open the door feeling a cool rush of wind sting my eyes. I squinted in reaction and tried to get my bearings by locating my 1975 Buick Apollo on the other side of the parking lot. At the moment I spotted its familiar shape, mildly illuminated by the orange hued lights surrounding the parking lot, I felt something snag my left foot, which was in the process of transferring weight towards my still raised right foot. The car disappeared in an upward blur, smearing into the lights from the Farrell’s sign that were behind me, and then to blackness as my eyes unconsciously clenched to brace for impact.
Lying sideways in a heap, head first down the blacktop wheelchair ramp, I felt my left palm burn from trying to catch my fall. I could hear the glide of cars passing by on the street behind me. I groaned and lifted my right hand from the puddle it had landed in and rolled on to my back. My eyes opened to see Jonathan hovering over me.
“Oops. What happened there buddy?” he asked with a wide smile as smoke flow out of his nostrils. “You okay?”
“AH! HA! HA!”
He reached out a hand to help me up, but was interrupted by a car turning into the lot. It cruised over the top of my head. I looked over to my left in reaction and saw Kim wearing a thin leather jacket. She was holding herself tightly to keep warm. She held a skinny strap against her left forearm, so her tiny glittery purse dangled next to her skirt. My neck relaxed as I watched her fishnet adorned legs clomp quickly towards the car that had pulled in to pick her up.
“Oh, no. Wow. Tough break. Sorry, man,” Jonathan stammered flatly and returned his hand to help me up. I sat up and brushed my hands together to discard the sand and gravel that had embedded themselves from the tumble and accepted his offering.
“What the hell?” I asked in mild exasperation.
“I didn’t think you’d go down!”
I brushed myself off and noticed a gaping hole in the left knee of my pants. I wasn’t upset. I shakily stepped off of the inclined plane of the slope and reached for my car keys.
“Let’s grab some beer,” Jonathan suggested as he tossed the butt aside. “It’s on me.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


“So I hang an empty smile
Beneath my empty eyes
And go out
For a walk”

-"Perfect" The The (1983)

Every spring time from my freshman year of college at Pacific in 1990 till my last spring in 2001 before becoming a dialysis patient, I used to get a serious craving for Snickers candy bars - the big ones. It started at Pacific most likely because I didn't like the food at the cafeteria and had very little money. Plus with the candy machine in the basement of the Student Center, it gave me an excuse to wander. I used to try the coin on a string trick in hopes the candy machine would be fooled into giving me a Snickers for free. This never worked. If I had enough change, I would buy my candy and slowly eat it as I would walk around the campus and sometimes beyond and enjoy the solitude of an early evening. This long walk for a Snickers tradition continued on for years no matter where I lived. I didn't realize that I had started this tradition until it had to end. When I had my kidneys removed, I could no longer eat chocolate, or nuts, or caramel (or much of anything for that matter), so the tradition ended and hasn't restarted since. Today, was a nice weather day that is now ending with cloud cover. For some reason, it reminded me of those long springtime walks in search of a Snickers bar. I remember one when I had to move back to the coast in the early 90s, where I found that I had wandered all the way down to D River Wayside before finding the candy bar at Jo Jo Land just in time to refuel for the walk back home. Another time, when living near Lloyd Center in NE Portland, I found myself circling the block by the old (now gone) Ferrell's ice cream parlor and considered cheating on Snickers and grabbing a snack inside. The most memorable Snickers journey occured in 2000, when I wandered out the door after having just listened to Sleater-Kinney's "All Hands on the Bad One" CD. I had the first couple of lines from the opening song "Ballad of a Ladyman" looping endlessly in my head:

"eye cream and thigh cream, how 'bout a get
high cream?"

It was an early evening sunday and the streets were quiet. I walked from Goose Hollow into the PSU campus area and the warm day was turning overcast and I could feel a threat of rain coming on, so I quickened my pace. The streets were very quiet and the same refrain from the same song not only was on an endless loop, but I had begun to imitate Corin Tucker's powerful and unique vocal style audibly. I was feeling good, but I didn't want to get rained on, so I looped back towards the west side of I-405, where I had planned to track down the Snickers bar. As I turned a corner in the shadow of a student apartment building, I noticed a couple walking the opposite direction across the street from me. Before I could quiet myself, I had already belted out the intensifying "get high cream" line with my best effort. The couple both looked my way, clearly hearing me, but simply continued on their way. It took me a moment, but I became certain that the woman was Corin Tucker. Part of me liked the idea of her hearing me singing one of her songs while strolling down the street, but most of me didn't feel good about it at all. However, I continued on my way, now preoccupied with an internal debate whether I had just seen who I thought I had. Once I found an open mini-mart, I found my Snickers, and made my way out onto the streets again. A light rain had begun to fall, so I ate the candy faster than normal. As I passed the east side of Lincoln High School, still about 8 blocks from home, I tossed the wrapper into one of those huge cement public trash cans with the metal top. I noticed that the lid had scrawled around the circular opening "Life is a Hole." Ever since seeing that, I've always wanted and have tried to write a short story that uses that line to some poignant end. Nothing has worked so far (any ideas?). Maybe it's time to restart the tradition and go for a walk that promises a treat. I need some inspiration.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

High Heels

He stood in the front yard of her Mom’s house. No one was there. He had just arrived from her empty studio apartment downtown. Birds chirped and flitted about invisible to him within the piss smelling hedges. The sky was grey, but the air was warm and stagnant. All he could think about was burning down the simple white house and its dry flat lawn. He knew about what had gone on inside over the years and he blamed the entire neighborhood for not doing anything about it. As he stood in this quiet place, his stomach turned over itself and became a boiling pot of self-pity. He sat on the top of three stairs leading to the porch, filled with frustration, but feeling too weak from exasperation. The black painted wrought iron hand railing lining the stoop felt like bars to a cell and everything about this place made him feel empty and alone. He began to realize how horrible her memories really were and that she most likely would not have come here. But, she clearly was not coming back to her apartment, so now he didn’t know where to find her. He wanted to find her more than anything. He buried his face in his hands and began to think about the way her tiny hands would primp her crooked hairstyle, while she blushed for him. He pictured her in her old fashioned clothes, her cumbersome high heels and the way she would begin smoking with a cigarette holder, when she had too much to drink. She was playing the part of a 1940s movie star for him, and he found her adorable, like she was a young girl dressing up in her Grandmother’s clothes. When he first met her, the only thing that felt out of place was the sudden reluctance of his friends to hang out with him anymore and the ease with which he was able to ease her into bed. It had been only recently that his mind was telling him that something was not quite right. She had always seemed needy to him, but he appreciated that. He wanted to take care of her. She had been erratic and inconsistent during the short time he had known her, but her open and often raw emotions made him feel like he truly knew her. Yet the last time they were together, she was dramatically begging him to leave her alone. She was lying in his bed, in the dark, when he got home from work. He thought he saw bruises on her arms when he turned on a lamp. She began to cry hysterically and acted as though he was threatening her with violence, when he asked her about the bruises. He couldn’t deal with her, so he left and wandered the streets in an attempt to sort out the confusion and anger in his mind. Finally, he began to realize that she had blinded him. She had concealed herself behind her frequent laughs, her easy tears and her willing body. She was playing a role for him the entire time. This had been his first visit backstage. He finally realized that she needed help. He ran back to his apartment, only to find her gone.

Still in the yard of the home she grew up in, he stood up and paced back and forth imagining a confrontation that he regretted never having with her. His mind seethed with fury thinking about the emptiness that being near this place bore into him. Lost in his useless monolog, he was unaware that his arms were finally open to her. He was ready to help her and protect her for the first time. She had helped him from the first moment they had met, but he had never offered her anything but his own selfish desires. After several silent minutes, he stiffly and slowly walked away from the house and down the middle of the treeless street lined with identical one level houses. The spider's webs entangled in the stiff hedges were the only signs of life.