Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Black Metallic

I have decided to finally post the first of the five old MAX (commuter) stories.  As mentioned previously, these were all written quickly post-occurance originally as part of intended correspondence, so really for an audience of one.  But here we are: another story filled with self-doubting inner dialogue - most of which is pretty funny in this case - as we look at the awkwardness of pretty much any moment I spend in public places.

MAX Part I

Another endless day at work is finally over. It’s not yet Daylight Savings and I’m already going to and from work in the dark. I am completely worn out. I’m so drained that it’s difficult to move my limbs. Tonight, I’ll swing by the Post Office and check the PO Box and then simply head straight home. No energy for anything else.

Finally, the weather has come around to my liking. I was able to pull out the old overcoat this morning for the first time since early March. With the weather turning a little cool, rainy and windy, generally I’d be getting a rush of energy following the dead hot air of the oppressive summer.

At the Post Office, I make eye contact with an older woman and I smile. She returns my smile with a look of horror and disgust as she quickens her pace out the door I just came through.

“What’s up with that?” I mumble to myself, confused at why I seem to bother so many people by trying to be friendly.

No mail in the box. No surprise, but still a disappointment. At least there are no bills, but I still am left with a feeling that there’s nothing out there for me. I’m feeling disconnected.

The rain picks up its intensity as I meander the ten or so blocks down toward the Max stop at Pioneer Place. Not long from now I will be able to take a shower and relax and prepare myself for another long week of work.

I wonder what that lady’s problem with me was. Am I really that terrifying? Though unplanned, my only intention was to be a nice guy. I frequently hold doors open for people and offer a friendly greeting, which is generally met with a cold shoulder, or worse: sheer terror! It’s no wonder my self-esteem is so low.

A block shy of my MAX stop at the downtown mall, I notice that I just missed a train. Great. A long wait could be in the works. I shrug and take a deep breath and accept my fate and try my best to take shelter and soak in the refreshing wash of wind and rain.

The city feels extraordinarily dead this early evening. There is almost no one in sight with only an occasional car splashing by. This actually is nice. Just last week I was standing in this spot sweating from the extreme heat surrounded by what must have been the entire population of Portland waiting for the next train. This triggers my memory of how annoyed I get with so many people in those types of crowds that force themselves onto the train with desperate urgency. It’s as if they will perish if they don’t smash themselves into this particular train immediately. Maybe I’m bitter because I am always the last one to board the train, no matter how well I position myself on the platform. Luckily, this won’t be an issue this evening, because it’s just me here, alone.

Scratch that. That pretty woman I’ve been seeing around this stop and on the train the last week or so has just appeared from the mall’s exit. I think she works for that fancy BCBG store, but I cannot be sure. She is always dressed very finely. This evening she is clad in classic black. Her outfit sets off her short, almost black hair and her smooth fair skin. She is wearing a knee length skirt and a business style jacket that is form fitting at her hips. Every time I’ve seen her I am forced to stare with my mouth hanging open, completely hypnotized. I would love to talk with her and find out what her story is. She walks within a few feet of me, carefully staying close to the building and out of the rain and she glances at me as she nears my position. She looks very stern. I try out my smile again, which does not phase her fixed glare. She parks herself against the building underneath the awning a few feet off of my right shoulder. I’ve seen this beauty so many times over the last week that I feel like I should at least acknowledge her existence. In an obtuse way, we are learning about each other by pure circumstance. At least that’s what I tell myself. There’s still no one else around. The only sound is from the distant traffic, the patter of rain on the awning above us and the indeterminate buzz of a city. We both face the tracks and the street in front of us. The Max will be arriving from our right side and I keep glancing in that direction every couple of moments out of nerves. It’s as if my glances will urge the train to show sooner. These glances also allow me quick view of the stunning stranger next to me. Her hair is so dark and smooth and soft.

Oops! She just caught me looking at her! Why did she have to show up now? I am clearly not ready for her. I am never ready for this, no matter how much I want to be. She shivers a bit as a gust of wind sweeps through the block. I see her eyes moisten and her jaw quiver slightly as she fights back a yawn.

“I never see you when you’re smiling,” I blurt suddenly, surprising myself. What kind of opening line is that? Why am I using a Catherine Wheel lyric to start a conversation with one of the prettiest women I have ever seen?

Another cool breeze floats down the roadside, pushing her velvety hair partially across her face, as she turns and fixes her gaze onto mine. I look down to the ground immediately out of shame, but only for a moment. I am able to reattach my eyes to hers.

A small smirk pushes the corners of her mouth upward slightly, before stopping. She continues to look right at me and then gasps in a deep breath. Her expanded chest pushes her coat open a bit and I cannot help but peak. I am certain she notices my shifting eyes. She looks so elegant – so way out of my league.

“I’m sorry,” she quietly replies after what seems like an eternity. She exhales as she says this and tilts her head against the breeze.

Over the last couple of days I’ve had a cold slowly defeating my immune system and I begin to feel a trickle of something slide out from inside my left nostril. I sniff, but it’s no use, because that side of my nose is too stuffed up and the trickle has escaped too far. If I were to sniff harder a second time, it could only be characterized as a snort and that seems like it would be bad. I fight off the instinct to wipe my nose with my sleeve. I can only hope that nothing is visible, or try and pretend it’s a raindrop.

Why did I have to say such a freaky thing to her? Maybe it could’ve been worse. I could’ve crooned the song lyric to her as it repeats often in my head. I had put the pressure on myself and I broke. Even if she wasn’t a wet dream come true, I would have that uncomfortable feeling that I should try and start a conversation considering that we are the only two people on the entire block and we’re standing only a few feet apart. She’s still looking at me and in this light her eyes look nearly obsidian. I realize that she just spoke to me.

“Don’t be sorry.” This statement is followed by what seems to be another unending pause. “Why?” Another pause, as I gulp down a sudden need to cough. “Why, uh, no, um…smile?” Oh dear. Could I be any more of a dumbass?

She looks down, purses her lips as if trying to force her mouth into a smile, but her eyes are stones. If I were in her position, I’m sure I’d find this stupid clown pretty hard not to laugh at.

“Things have been rough lately, but that’s no excuse,” she says hesitantly. She looks back to me and partially averts her gaze for a beat before reasserting her focus on me. I begin to wonder what she sees. When I look at her, I see probably the most attractive woman I have ever been in the presence of. She is bold and pristine. She radiates a class that feels far above any level I can ever imagine. What must she see when she looks at me? She can only possibly see a slob wearing a tattered T-shirt and jeans and my old overcoat. I have never made an effort to be anything but the rumpled, portly and shaggy waste that I resigned myself to be years ago. At this moment, I regret this decision.

“I suppose.” My entire body begins to itch intensely, as if tiny insects are skittering all over me in rapid motion. I cannot believe that she is actually engaging me in any manner at all.

My coat smells putrid. I really need to get it cleaned. Its odor is especially foul when it gets damp, which unfortunately, it is. Maybe I could piss myself right now to round out the perfect first impression.

“You looked tired,” she says, incredibly with what seems to be an attempt to keep this faltering conversation alive. My esteem might be higher in general, if this wasn’t about the most positive comment about my appearance that I ever get. My other favorites are the classic: “You look sick!” or the common: “You look terrible!” or the new one I heard this morning at work: “What the hell happened to you?”

“Yeah,” I begin to drawl with an unplanned completely wasted voice. “So I’ve been told.” Insert another long pause here. “You, uh, on the other hand, look stunning.”

“Now I feel bad, but thank you. That is very kind of you,” she says sheepishly, as she shrugs her shoulders for a moment and shifts her attention towards her feet.

“Heh heh heh heh!” What the hell was that?!

The MAX mercifully slides into place at our block, along with some sort of urgent gas bubble just below my gut. It feels like someone has stabbed me, while I’ve been distracted by this amazing looking woman next to me. And really, I deserve to be stabbed for what a mess it has become. The sudden gas pressure is making it difficult to stand up straight, let alone lift my legs up the tall stairs onto the train. Too bad I can’t request the wheelchair lift to help me out.

“Hey, the train is finally here! Where are you heading?” I ask. Great question. Maybe I can follow you home! Can I get any creepier?

“I’m heading home. It’s been a long day,” she replies quickly and efficiently.

The doors open on the train and I step aside for her to climb in first, both to be gentlemanly and so she doesn’t have to witness my struggle with the emerging gas bubble. I bet it’s from the chocolate milk I drank with my lunch. That stuff always forms a kind of impenetrable orb inside my stomach.

Inside the train, she doesn’t sit down. Instead she holds onto the rail and lets me pass by her. The train is nearly empty; much like the downtown streets had been, so now I am left to decide how to proceed. Do I stand near her and try and cling to this terrible thread of a conversation as desperately as I want to, or do I find a seat and hope that she follows me down that road. She should sprint to the opposite end of the long train car and leave me stranded with my bowel issues. I decide to be bold and take an uneasy seat by the seats closest to where she’s standing. Amazingly, she sits next to me, and my senses are overwhelmed. I take a deep breath and exhale slowly in an effort to compose myself. My nose begins a new trickle again and I quickly wipe at it with my left hand without thought. Damn!

“I’m so happy that you smiled. You have an amazing one.” Where am I going with this? “I’m sorry that you’ve had a rough time,” I finish satisfactorily.

She thanks me again and smiles weakly. Sitting next to her, I realize how good she smells, despite the reek of my coat. She takes in a quick breath and tugs at the bottom of her form-fitting jacket, before easing back in the seat. She begins to tell me her story. Within the last year, her parents had divorced, and then her father passed away shortly thereafter from a cancer diagnosed too late. She then split up with her longtime boyfriend, dropped out of college and to escape her hell moved away from all of her friends and family from San Francisco to Portland. Since moving, she’s only found work that she doesn’t like, after a long stretch of unemployment, and is uncertain that she can trust her roommate. She tells me she’s at a loss about what to do. I listen attentively and nod my head and express sympathy and I notice that my stop is nearing and that my gas discomfort is increasing while sitting down. The sad face I present is easy to achieve both from the tragic story of her past year and from the pain emanating from my gut. She seems nervous about having told me this laundry list of her problems and she apologizes for having told me.

Outside the windows of the train is almost complete blackness in contrast to the blinding fluorescent lights inside. I can tell that the rain is stepping up its intensity, because the windows are getting blasted. I look around the train as I carefully stand up and am amazed at the lack of passengers. I tell her that my stop is coming up.

“I am so sorry, you must think I’m a disaster,” she says, forcing another smile.

“No, not at all. I am sorry for your struggles. I know you can turn this around,” I say uselessly, as I offer my hand for a shake. Not knowing what else to do. She places her hand lightly into mine and I grasp it for a moment. I gently squeeze her hand reassuringly and let go before it starts to feel creepy, especially since I am towering over her trapped next to the window, while she is sitting. Luckily, she finally stands up in order to allow me to leave, by using my hand for leverage.

“Please take care,” I turn back to her just as the MAX comes to a sudden jolting stop and the doors violently slap open.

“I will do my best. Thank you for listening,” she smiles again and I see that her eyes look tired.

“Anytime,” I respond, and then point aimlessly into different directions with my index fingers, like I always do, before hopping down the three steep stairs and into the downpour. I hunch my head into the wind and begin to move quickly with my hands buried deep into my coat. As the train pulls away, I see the girl inside and begin to realize that I have no idea who she is. I learned a bit about her recent troubles, and yet I didn’t learn her name, what she likes, maybe her phone number, or anything that would help me talk to her again without random chance being a factor. I had been hoping to learn all of these things from the first moment I saw her by the train the week or so prior. At least find out her name! She does not look out the window toward me as the train speeds away. Maybe I’ll see her during the next commute, I decide.

The rain engulfs me as I stomp through the vast expanse of the Lloyd Cinemas parking lot. The bottom of my coat whips around my legs from the wind and I squint to keep the rain from flooding my eyes, while I hum to myself and fall into a deep sadness. I still can’t believe what I said to her and more importantly, what I didn’t say.

“I never see you when you’re smiling

It really gets under my skin”

And so on….

The other MAX stories can be found here:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

They Said Tomorrow

Here is a very old story that has been posted and removed more than once.  It is a story that I find to be too specific for anyone to truly identify with, yet I think it finds the voice of struggle for those who have not found any confidence.  This is painful to read - looking back at my younger self - but I have never been able to revise this quickly written story, because of its brutal honesty and immediacy.  It is the second part of the Max series of stories - all of which were originally written as letters to an old friend.

Max 2
written: 12/15/97

I'm standing outside Pioneer Square, around Five PM, less than two weeks before Christmas. It's festive out here. The sky looks pitch black this early in the evening, because of the bright contrast the Christmas lights in the Square create. It's cool out today, but not wet. The city's official Christmas tree towers behind my back, as I stand and wait for the Max like I do most days after work. I was considering doing my Christmas shopping, but doused that plan. I don't know what to get anyone anyway. This time of year used to be my favorite. The vacations from school, lots of presents, the chance for snow; what could be better? Even with most of these benefits vanished as an adult; I would still love this season, if my Mom were still alive to share it. She was my family's Christmas spirit. Nowadays, it's just another time of year with extra expenses that I cannot afford.

I take a deep breath. I'm thinking that I should go grab a pack of cigarettes. If you're waiting for the Max and you decide to light a smoke, the Max will show. It always happens. On the other hand, if I run across the street to grab the smokes, the Max will arrive during that transaction. Instead I'll just be patient and look around at people and hope I can manage to score a seat on the train. It will be doubtful with the size of crowd that's hanging around tonight.

To my left, down the block about 10 or 15 feet, my eyes catch a familiar face, a face that I will not ever forget - a face that I used to gaze at longingly throughout the summer of 1993. That was the summer when all of my friends and I went haywire. It was the summer of 70+ hour work weeks at two different jobs. The summer of playing hoops at Oceanlake School with Bad Religion cranked from Matt's VW Rabbit and piles of "Dino-size" cups and fries lying about. It was the summer that I fell in love with Little Debbie and her tantalizing treats. And who could forget about all the Blitz Beer? It was the summer that "Emmaline" broke my heart. It was a summer lacking sleep, or any real direction. It was that summer that I relied on my friends to keep me from spending time alone.

I have always had great friends, but have mostly lived as a loner. This has been self-imposed to a large degree. I have never wanted to hassle anyone with my medical issues, or my crazy phobias. I have always kept everyone at arms length, especially women. It's not like women are clamoring to get at me anyway, so it isn't very difficult to build a wall to hide behind and focus on survival. But it was her face, the one down the block that ruined everything.

I'll refer to her simply as "R" and she is waiting for the Max train as I am now. Her face is older and her features more striking than before. She is tastefully dressed, wearing a clean cut, dark woolen winter overcoat, and a black skirt that drops to her knees. Below the skirt, she has on dark stockings that hug her muscular calves. This is quite a change from the shorts and T-shirts she usually wore that summer. She is standing close to some guy and huddling into his left shoulder, as I peer at her profile. He seems oblivious. I can see a small strip of her soft brown hair twitch as it sits lightly on her long eyelashes.


I was trapped in Lincoln City that summer after another false start with college in Seattle during the fall of '92. Unfortunately, both of my kidneys were full of tumors and another surgery was necessary. This has been the story of my life: false starts and incompletes. The summer of '93 was sort of a last hurrah for me and my friends – most of who had just graduated from college. I hadn't. This was the last summer "back home" for us, before heading off into whatever directions to deal with the crapheap of adulthood. The fun that we seemed to be having every night drinking and joking around felt frantic with desperation. Personally, I was afraid to be alone. I could not sleep, so I would just stay out all night. If I didn't, there was a good chance I would cut my throat, or something wacky like that. I could no longer trust myself alone.

I remember seeing "R" around that summer, when she used to hang out with the usual clan that would slide into Gallucci's Pizzeria near closing time on most nights. The pizza place was a hangout joint for the under-21/over-18 crowd. They would gather in huge groups for hours and only order the 30 cent cheese bread. I worked days at a One Hour Photo lab and nights making pizzas and those orders of cheese bread. We got to know each other by sight, but we never spoke. I asked some friends of friends and co-workers and anyone else I could think of about her. I found out she was new to town, 20 years old, and by all accounts a cool girl. She was gorgeous. Her lips and eyes, her deep tan skin, and her long slender body overwhelmed me every time I saw her around, until long after she had gone away. She was way out of my league. She was driving me crazy.

The first time I ever saw her she was surfing. She was pretty good. I was out there attempting to surf as well, but I never got the hang of it. My old hippie high school chemistry teacher was also out there on his long board. I was afraid that he would run me down and bust my head open, causing me to drown in a mixture of seaweed, blood and patchouli oil. Besides, the ocean didn't need this fat fuck paddling around like a wounded manatee.

It took me the entire summer to build up the nerve to talk to "R," and I doubt I ever would have, until she gave me an opportunity.

Prior to all of that, I had a blind date early that summer with a girl recently moved from San Francisco named Alexandra. She was the daughter of the drummer from the 60's band Paul Revere and the Raiders. You know, "Cherokee People," and a whole bunch of other songs that get played on oldies radio? She wrote me a letter. My friends and I used to occasionally Xerox a terrible 'zine called "This Wreckage," and she liked it. The 'zine almost never received feedback for our efforts, so I excitedly wrote back to her pages and pages of thoughts along with copies of the back issues. We corresponded a few more times before deciding to meet. The meeting went well. We hit it off and we started to hang out. She was pretty, funny, smart, and we liked a lot of the same music, books and movies. My best friend Wil really liked her too. The three of us would stay up all night on the beach drinking beer, or up in the old cemetery above Spanish Head drinking more beer, talking about crazy times and singing the sad songs of Mark Eitzel. Wil fell for Alex big time, and I was distracted by my huge crush on "R," so it was easy for me to step aside. This is assuming that I was in the game, which is never a lock. Whatever the case, all of my thoughts were about "R." Every song I listened to pertained to her or my attraction to her. Every moment my mind was free to wander, it wondered about her. Would she be interested in someone like me? Would I ever get over myself and talk to her? What would I say? What would she say?


Looking up from the grey sidewalk, I see "R" talking to her companion. They are arm in arm. She is looking at him, so I can see her face directly. It is definitely her. She's smiling. I recognize that wide smile where her full lips part slightly to show off a glimmer of her teeth. Her boyfriend is shorter than her and looks like a total shit. I am terrified by the jealousy I feel toward some stranger who is spending valuable time with a girl who I once dreamt about. Something about seeing her with him bugs me. I cannot shake the thought of that weasel with her. I may be old fashioned, and most likely a sexist bastard, but I'm sickened by the idea of some jackass sportfucking a woman who I once held in such high regard. I can't seem to stomach the thought, despite knowing better.


I'll never forget that day when I was working at the Photo Shop, when she wandered in. My Dad owned the shop and had some of his paintings on display around the front counter. She quietly walked in with no film to be developed. She was looking around at the paintings with a content expression in her eyes. We crossed glances several times, as I sat on a stool at the machine adjusting light densities to badly taken pictures. I did not know what to do. Normally, my exposure to her had been when she was surrounded by a huge group of people, but now she was on her own. We were on our own. I kept looking over at her, feeling serious panic. Finally, I asked her if she needed help, wondering why she was there. Asking her this simple question that I was being paid to ask felt difficult. I could feel each word stick in my throat. She nodded with a shy smile and, after a few moments, she silently walked out the door. Maybe she was there to see me. I needed to stop hating myself and do something, so I suddenly bolted after her, catching her outside the doorway.

"Hey!" I mumbled, out of breath, not from the quick sprint, but because of nerves and adrenaline. I couldn't believe what I was doing. I had no plan.

"Yeah?" She turned and grinned as if she expected my affront.

What ensued was remarkable. Somehow, as if possessed by someone who knows what they're doing, my mouth formed some words that formally introduced me to her. I told her how beautiful I thought she was, and I managed to ask some general questions. She continued smiling throughout, and never broke our eye contact. She said that she would love to meet up for lunch sometime, when I asked her for a date. She wrote down her phone number and asked me to call her at such and such a time.

This may seem routine, but then you don't understand. She said yes. For the first and last time in my life, a girl who I had amassed a major crush on said yes!


Moving closer to "R" on the platform while waiting for the Max, I can see her eyes tearing up from the cold, dry breeze. My eyes begin to tear up from not blinking for so long, like that day when I asked her out and our gazes were locked.


She was the girl who said yes. She had told me on that sidewalk outside the Photo shop that she was working at Subway and that maybe we could meet for lunch or coffee before her shift in the next couple of days. I watched her tongue explore her top lip as she wrote her phone number on a slip of paper. She slid the paper into my hand and held it for a moment, before turning to walk away from wherever she had appeared from. I was shuddering from her touch and breathing in her sweet scent. My heart was pounding so hard that my shirt was hopping up and down. After a few steps, she turned her head over her shoulder and reiterated that I call her. Her smile was gentle, smooth and cool. She had a seductive ease about her. I was shocked that she said yes.


The Max pulls into position at the stop and the doors slap open, releasing a collection of homeless skate punks, Goths, drunks, Christmas shoppers, commuters and in-betweeners like me. Unfortunately, a far greater number of people are attempting to squeeze into the Max. These are mostly people heading home from their various jobs downtown. I manage to slide into the Max using the same door that "R" and the guy use. Once I am inside, I stay by the door and lean against the backside of the elevated seats. This position is easy for getting out in a hurry when the train is jammed. "R" and her little buddy find a seat to share with their backs toward me. I can see them sitting close, unknowing of my intent stare.


I remember that first call. I was over hanging out with Wil at his Mom's house in Taft. He and I had a few beers and he gave me a pep talk rivaling any speech from a sports movie. "R" had told me a time to call so I did. She answered and I told her who I was, half expecting her not to remember. Wil left the room, leaving me to pace back and forth nervously, while talking with my hands. She did remember me to my surprise. I asked her if she wanted to meet up for lunch the next day. Instead, she said she wanted to get out of town. She said that Lincoln City was getting too claustrophobic for her. She asked if I had any other ideas. Did I ever? I had already envisioned a plan while I was working up the guts to ask this girl out.

The plan was to leisurely drive up the coast to Oceanside. Oceanside is a quiet coastal town, mostly devoid of the usual family tourist trappings. It's nestled into a large cliff that juts out to the sea on its north end, making the small town reachable only from the south. Plus it's off the main highway, providing one of the most secluded and scenic beaches around. Visiting there a couple of times earlier that summer, I found a rare inner peace. It instilled in me a sense of comfort - a sense of home - I hadn't felt in years. "R" and I would walk the beach to the end by the cliff, where the driftwood collects, and sit there as the sun set behind the rock island that towers up a few hundred feet off shore. We would talk and hopefully (at least) hold hands. At dusk we would stroll back to the cozy restaurant at the south end of the beach and enjoy an incredible dinner. This was and still is my most romantic daydream. It may be my only romantic notion. In this vision, however, my car would not have been the tiny piece of shit Subaru that I drove at the time. A car so rusted out that the driver's side door was taped on, forcing me to climb in and out through the passenger's side door. I could never sort out this problem with my plan. I could open the door for her, but I'd have to climb in first. Or I could pretend to be gentlemanly and help her into the car, before jumping into the open window of the driver's side like the Duke Brothers used to do on TV. Of course the chances of a coastal mist soaking the inside of my car were too high to leave the window down. I left the door details out of my description, as I tried my best to tell her my date idea, while trying to make it sound as if I were inventing it on the spot. Telling her this plan felt unbelievable and magical to me. Here I was, rambling on, and the girl of my dreams was listening. When I finally shut up, she paused and then sighed, sending shivers down my spine.

"That sounds so nice," her voice cracked. I will never forget the sound of her voice as she said this. She sounded so sultry and sexy that I stopped pacing and dropped into a chair and melted into the phone. I was hooked on this girl and could not believe what was happening. Maybe there actually is a merciful God or whatever, instead of the bleak black hole that life had previously presented itself to be.

We spoke for a few more minutes. She said that she had to go, but would call me back, so we could set a date. The inflection of her voice told me that she liked my idea.


I couldn't help but stare at her, while standing on the crowded train. She is so fucking alluring. Her friend was looking straight ahead as she whispered to him. I could not hear her words, but I could remember how her voice had given me goose bumps. I stare at the side of her face and stop breathing.


A week passed after that first phone conversation. It seemed like an eternity. I went into Subway for lunch hoping to run into her. My patience was not as strong as my excitement. She wasn't there. The girl who made the sandwich I felt obligated to order seemed to know who I was. She told me that she was "R's" older sister. She encouraged me to call "R" and not to wait any longer. So I did, after forcing down the sandwich, but nothing came together.

This all happened at the end of that summer. Eric and I had been planning to be roommates and move to Portland to get out of town. She was right when she told me that Lincoln City was getting claustrophobic.

The move took place early in September, but I hadn't given up. I felt like a new man. I had broken through my insecurities and was finally growing up. Besides, it had only been a few weeks since I had asked her out. Since I was planning to drive back to the coast the first weekend after the move to get a final load, in a new-to-me car, I decided to give her another call. Now I had a car with functioning doors, so I wouldn't have to resort to Dukes of Hazzard tactics during the date and she could come visit me at my place whenever.

After collecting the last of my things at my Dad's house, I phoned her. I was brimming with my renewed confidence. We chatted for a long time, and she told me that she was sorry that we hadn't ever met up. She told me that her life had recently been hard to deal with, because lots of "bad things" were happening to her. She asked if I would be in town all weekend. If so, she wanted to meet up Sunday afternoon. I tried to pin down a time and place. Instead she asked me to call her.


Thinking about that conversation, I begin to grind my teeth - forcing myself not to look at her sitting in front of me on the train. At that moment, I hum to myself the lyrics of a song my memory of her always brings to mind: "If I bother you / please tell me to go away / I don't want to bother you / but it's not for me to say." Those words always acted as my motto for the few times I have asked women out. I simply want honesty. I am not as afraid of rejection as much as being misled.

I focus my attention on the windows of the train. The blackness beyond made the reflections of the other passengers as sharp as a mirror's. Thinking back on that call, I cannot figure out how I could be so naïve. There she is in front of me now. I swivel my head back toward her. The last time I saw her, she left me shaken with an excitement and a high that I haven't felt since. Here she is again, with her hazel eyes and long eyelashes, looking better than before. Her head turned over her shoulder as it had been when she asked me to call her in front of the Photo shop all those years prior. That's when we make eye contact, as she stops her diatribe to her silent partner. She does a double take when she sees me. I fix my eyes on her and do not blink. The train comes to a stop and the doors open to allow the cool breeze in and several people out.


On the afternoon of that Sunday, I was about to drive back to Portland from Lincoln City. The promising phone conversation that "R" and I had two days earlier had not been enough for me. Something didn't feel right, so I was giving up. I was feeling like a pest and I had moved out of town. If we couldn't manage to meet up while living in the same small town, how would we manage living 90 miles apart? In addition, I had two passengers returning to Portland with me. I was driving Wil and Alexandra back to Portland. They were now a couple living together in downtown Portland. As we were heading out of town, Alex convinced me to give "R" one last call.

It was a grey day. I remember that detail vividly. Everything seemed grey. The road, the buildings, and the sky were all grey.

I pulled into the Safeway parking lot near the north end of town, parked, and went to the payphone feeling dread well up inside my chest.

"R" answered the phone after several rings. I took a deep breath to settle my nerves - determined to get something definitive out of her. Before I could say anything, aside from the hello that followed hers, she asked me to hold on. After what seemed an eternity, there was a clatter on the other end of the line, followed by the voice of a male.

"Don't call here again," the voice said flatly. The line went dead.

I glared at the payphone for several moments and slammed the receiver before storming back to the car. Alex, sitting in the back seat, quietly said that she was sorry. We rode back to Portland in verbal silence. I played music loudly, while trying to keep my frustration and anger inside. But every song on the drive home broke my heart. The songs were still all about her, but at least now I finally had my definitive answer.

Why didn't she tell me? I clearly couldn't figure it out on my own. If she wasn't interested, she could've told me or not acted so interested initially. It would've hurt, but not like this. Apparently, she had to stomp on my heart after coaxing it from its dark cavern. Maybe she had been interested, but I did something wrong along the way to change her mind. Maybe I was blind from the beginning.


Another stop. The Max stops about every two blocks as it trickles through downtown. "R" and the short man stand up and move toward the door I am lurking near. Her eyes are fixed on mine. I sense the recognition in her eyes. Her face had already been burned into my memory forever. I would recognize her face more quickly than my own, but she had to search her memory. Not surprisingly, I had been forgotten.

As the line of people pass in front of me to escape the density of the train, she moves to within a foot of me. She breaks our silent staring contest and turns to the dwarf on her other shoulder.

"That's the fool who wouldn't stop calling me, when I lived in L.C.," she belts out so loudly that it numbs my ears and makes me cringe. Her right hand points at me to make sure everyone around are aware who she's shouting about. As they reach the door, they both turn back towards me. They look at me with malicious grins. I continue to stare back blankly, against my better judgment. "What is your problem? Did you ever get a clue?" She laughs at me, as she disappears outside.

I put my head down as the doors clatter shut and the train shudders back into motion. A hush takes over my surroundings and I no longer feel anyone around me. My vision blurs and my temples begin to pound. I feel boxed in and claustrophobic. I feel like I did seconds after last Halloween's debacle, when a gang of Russians jumped Jeff and I ran in to try and stop it. I managed to stop the attack, but not in time to keep us both out of an ambulance ride to the Emergency Room. I remember sitting on the edge of the examination table, with my eyes swollen shut and a head the shape of the Elephant Man, as some doctor told my roommate to check on me while I was trying to sleep that night. Apparently, sometimes when people get their face kicked in they wake up with panic attacks. I am already familiar with panic attacks. I know them from years of being butchered by surgeons and from waking up alone in my own skin.

I didn't want to bother her. Apparently I did.

more MAX stories can be found here:


Monday, May 14, 2012

Make Your Move

August 2006

I peaked into the doorway. No one in sight. “What if she’s not there?” I thought to myself. “I already bought the flowers.” I could simply leave them with whatever yahoo is there. Conflicted, I decided to return to the car to grab my stuff. I twisted the green and gold beads between my fingers out of nerves. This whole plan was silly.
Not five minutes earlier, when I was buying the flowers, I had been all grins and confidence. The sweet sweet checker girl, Missy, was all excited.

“Who is the lucky girl?” she asked me with a huge grin.

All I could think of is that the flowers would’ve been for her, if she hadn’t told me about her upcoming engagement just a few months prior, which was coincidentally, the same day I had resolved to finally ask her out. I had been falling for her in increasing increments for over a year. She must’ve sensed something coming, because she blurted it out before I could put my thoughts together. Of course, her new diamond ring was a convincing prop. Otherwise, I would’ve been sure that it was simply a nice way to let me down.

“I wouldn’t say she’s lucky, but there’re for a girl over at the pizza place who saved my life a week or so ago,” I said, as I vaguely motioned with my right hand, where the pizza place might be. “It was the Friday before last and I went in after a long day at work to get a pizza to go and I passed out while waiting around,” I paused momentarily, wondering if my story was already getting too long and tedious for Missy. “Turns out,” I continued while trying to gauge her interest, “I had an infection and my new kidney was in jeopardy.” I wasn’t sure if I had ever told her about my medical issues. “She was working there and came out to help me to a seat and she called an ambulance despite my protests.”

“Wow! That’s really amazing! You have been so much happier and healthier since your transplant; I would hate to see you get sick again.”

“Do you think it’s cheesy to get her flowers?” I asked out of a need for confirmation.

“Not at all! I bet she’ll be thrilled!” She handed me my change, and in the same motion, grabbed my hand and quietly told me “good luck” as her next customer started loading her groceries onto the conveyer belt.

“Thanks!” I replied a bit relieved. That was a boost. Her friendliness always instilled me with energy. Also, after doing this deed, I was off to the Bullpen downtown for the Timbers pre-game gathering.

All of this ran through my head as I grabbed the flowers and the card. I threw in that gift certificate for a restaurant that I had been given earlier in the year for my birthday. I knew I’d never use it. I shut the car door softly, while still looking around to make sure I had remembered everything. I took a deep breath and went straight in.

No one was in sight. There were no customers, but I still wasn’t sure if she was there. Would I recognize her? It’s not as though I was in a great frame of mind when I last saw her. When she smiled and set the pizza box onto my legs as I was being wheeled away on the ambulance strapped on a gurney, she probably thought I was a total dumb shit.

A flash of red caught my eye from the back room. It was her. She was coming my way.

“May I help you?” she asked.

I wasn’t sure if she remembered me. “You mean like you helped me before?” I responded carefully, as a tester.

“Are you doing okay now?” she immediately replied as she set both of her hands palms down onto the counter top and leaned toward me with a smile.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s why I’m here. I wanted to thank you for saving me. You may not realize it, but I could’ve been in real trouble.” I was stammering a bit, wondering how much I should say. "You saved my life."  I pulled out the roses from behind my back and presented them to her. “These are for you. Thank you so much.”

Her eyes brightened with surprise and she turned to her left and skittered her way around the counter and out toward me. I continued to stand motionless with the bunch of roses and the card extended out to where she had been. She came right at me and put her arms around me. I slowly responded in kind, as she whispered “thank you very much” into my ear.

This may sound strange, but her embrace felt completely right. She fit me perfectly. Her arms were crossed around my neck pulling me down a little and I strengthened my hug in kind. Her bright red shirt matched the flowers almost exactly. I could smell her dark hair as it tickled my cheek. After several moments, she pulled her shoulders back so she could look at me closely in the eyes. She looked as though she was tearing up. She held the look for a beat and repeated her thank you almost wordlessly.

“What’s your name?” she asked me as she stepped back quickly – realizing that she was still at work.

“My name is Chris,” I mumbled, already knowing that her name was Katelyn. I still had the receipt from my last ill-fated visit. “What’s yours?” I asked anyway.

“Katelyn. Hey listen, can I get you anything?” She asked as she moved backwards towards her perch behind the counter. One of her co-workers, a angry looking tatted out guy, who looked like an oven runner, had made his way out front into our odd scene.

“No, thank you. I’m headed to the soccer match tonight,” I responded, as I held one end of my Timbers Army scarf up for evidence. Instead I showed her the “No Pity” side. She looked confused. I went back to fondling the beads around my neck after I straightened the scarf around my neck.

A woman with two small children entered the pizza joint and I decided I’d better make my exit.

I climbed back into my small green car. It was a sunny and warm afternoon and I felt alive! Things had gone far better than I could’ve ever imagined. Earlier that day, I had given my notice at work. I had given this wonderful girl a nice thank you gift and now I was ready to meet up with a bunch of old friends for a lot of beer and a Timbers game. It did not matter to me that I had no back up plan, or that I would no longer have a job, and no savings to keep me afloat. This was the new me. I needed to remember to believe in myself and go for what I want rather than continue going with the flow – no matter what. The transplant had given me a new lease on life and it was time to start making serious changes. I made a positive move for change on this day.

As I started the ignition, my phone buzzed. It was Wil. Somehow he must’ve sensed that I had interacted with a pretty young woman.


“Yo, what’s up?”

“I’m getting ready to head into town for Thirsty Thursday. Just handed off the flowers.”

“Oh, that’s right. Did you ask her out?”

“No, man. This was about letting her know that I –“

“Dude! What went down then?” Wil cut me off.

“I gave her the flowers, the card with the restaurant thing in it, she hugged me and, and, it went well.”

“You should’ve asked her out. Now she’ll use the free meal with some other dude and you’ll be forgotten as soon as the flowers die off, or as soon as she forgets where she left them.”

“Thanks man,” I said sarcastically. Maybe things hadn’t completely changed. “Listen, we can chat later. I’m headed to the Bullpen.”