I was a child in the churning world

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In 1917, you are born, a fine baby. Really the only thing wrong with you is the third eye.

The midwife says Oh that’s just a baby eye, we used to see those all the time before they put iodide in the salt. What a hoot.

Your mother is reassured by this.

Your father takes a short performative breath and asks Will we be charged extra for the third eye. He says that No one asked if we wanted a third eye.

The midwife says No it’s cool, the baby eye is free. It’s like baby fat. It will just melt away, close up by the time the kiddo is 12 or 13. Sometimes before they’re 10. Everything they see through it will be forgotten. It will even disappear from any properly formatted digital photos. If you do choose to have an oil painting or sculpture made of the child, that won’t update automatically. You’ll have to bring it in and in all likelihood it’ll be out of warranty.

So it does cost extra, your father says with a thin vinegary smile.

this lump of bad meat

holiday

photo (c) peter holliday

Deserter 105 could not stop blinding cyclopses. The other men were running down the shore, fleeing to the hollow ships. Odysseus gesticulated wildly come on come on dude hurry, but 105 still struggled to lift the giant stick, its sharp burned end fouled with eyeball bits cooked like egg. The other cyclopses could come get a piece, he screamed to his departed shipmates.

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Deserter 106 walked naked from the bushes to ask the princesses for help. The guards stabbed him infinity times.

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Deserter 107 left the island of the beautiful sex goddess after seven years of beautiful sex. He stole some of her shit on the way out.

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Deserter 108 felt bad about his body and excused himself whenever sex or nudity or princesses were discussed. The guards stabbed him infinity times also.

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Only the priests had knowledge of the calendar but Deserter 109 went through the temple garbage and found a printout of the sacred dates, brushed away the coffee grounds. Deserter made a Google Calendar and invited everyone to celebrate the holy days. Everyone subscribed but the priests took away Deserter’s computer privileges.

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When the shepherd communities began to rise like bread into permanent villages they needed a heart. The shepherds chose as their heart a sacred fire guarded by economically disadvantaged virgins. Deserter 110 was the poorest of the virgins. She was behind on her bills and desperate. She sold the eternal fire on Craigslist. She forgot to take the ad down.

viagra-eyed athena

car

it has been a minute (time works differently in a one-way derelict medium). semirandom nugget from school-derived stuff.

Secret Donald excerpts
Secret Donald’s family painted outlines of him on walls and floors and couches like his memory murdered.

Donald left for work that day without finishing his prayers. No one could be sure what god he was aiming for. They left the words there like unwatched TV.

The painted outlines became a whole thing a mode of expression different colors different patterns different sizes. Nothing like Donald at all.

Gods were always stopping past on their summer vacations. Gods on their days off. No winged shoes. No makeup. No bright eyes. No pushup bras. No thunderbolts. They saw the halfsaid prayer and tried it on. Tried to pull it out of the stone. Some gods laughing, some gods shaking with effort. Some gods tried so hard to make the prayers theirs. Some gods just looked at it and said This prayer sucks I won’t hear it. But one god did that thing where he was obviously thinking about buying it and asking the questions you ask a salesgod. There wasn’t a salesgod just that same god imagining himself in a polo shirt. He pretended to get a phone call and walked out of Ithaca.

The prayer and the outlines existed and we gave fucks but not like quality fucks. Not the kind you give as gifts or burn as offerings.
A generation rose up unhappy with the outlines, constrained by even mutant memory not out of hatred but forgetting and because the outlines stained their beautiful tunics.

When the season for god tourism ended, Donald’s family took off their salesgod polo shirts and looked at the prayer and tried to finish. They tried every letter but praying wasn’t Scrabble.

The absence of Donald was like someone else’s money Squint at it all day, see where it gets you.

What if we just had one big outline? We could change it around seasonally Different colors different meanings. We could honor veterans. We could stand up to cancer.

At night Donald’s family would get shitty and work on the prayer. But the one who cared the most grew old and died. No one knew about the spreadsheet and they just kept unmaking.

We have to let Donald go to hold onto him or maybe we got it backwards.

Why does the outline even have to be Donald? At a certain point you have to consider his absence a desertion.

Eventually they decided to treat the halfprayer like they treated the outlines

I mean I don’t know what the deal with Donald is either. He should have been home fifteen years ago. But we were not even waiting for him It was not his birthday. We were not going to jump out from behind the halfprayer and yell DUDE YOU MADE IT AROUND AGAIN and make him sit in the outlines and take pictures.

If they can’t have an outline of Donald, just burn the fucking place down.

Because the halfprayer got sacred they stopped looking at it. One day the youngest baby  knocked the prayer over, translated it into a different forgotten language. Who would ever know the difference?

The snow’s smile fell and it built unfinished churches on Ithaca.

revised catalog of ships, partial

First, Maine belched 9 buses full of Stephen King characters and hippie deodorant

New Hampshire drooled 8 Subarus led by the fictional president from The West Wing and the ghost of the schoolteacher astronaut from the Challenger

Vermont smelled 2 battered SUVs driven by the maple syrup golems, from deep in their semi transparent barrel chests came concerns about high sugar intake

Massachusetts underwrote 36 Volvos, full of donuts and mixed-bag history and the smell of the Alewife T station

Connecticut ladled 21 Escalades, each spattered with robin shit, full of men in moderately nice shirts

New York choked on 47 beef patties, each patty cautiously justifying its existence in a calm voice, the voices harmonizing into insanity

New Jersey fake-choked 39 tomatoes dragging behind them 20-acre parking lot

Pennsylvania exhaled 44 Wienermobiles contained steelworkers and football coaches full of problems and a family of frightened deer and the Wendy’s where the Greyhound always stops

Ohio squeak-farted 43 garbage trucks laden with more football coaches with better problems, seven mediocre presidents, and the unpunished murderers of gravity

Maryland stabbed 31 unmarked police vehicles, filled with crab delicacies, rowing under the splattered banner of that mellow-scented jurisdiction

Delaware spat 5 maroon 1992 Chevrolet Corsicas, their fuzzy upholsteries murmuring faintly of peace

Kentucky emitted 24 almond-hued hatchbacks, split evenly between 12 happy families, violently dissimilar, and 12 unhappy families, unrecognizable

South Carolina bled 26 Teslas, their paintjobs scratched by the amorous fingers of spurned part-time lovers on the homefront, the occupants of the cars using their toes to idly swipe through Tinder matches

North Carolina politely sneezed 40 Amtrak diner cars into the crook of her elbow, the germs in rusty armor running every direction

Georgia hiccuped 42 underfunded light-rail cars for the greater good, each one’s destination sign staring out A WAR in cute green diodes

Virginia frontstabbed 38 black Labs in tuxedos, each ridden by a monkey dressed like George Washington, doffing their powdered wigs like hats and chewing on roses

West Virginia suppurated 12 gleaming tour buses, each containing non-native Merle Haggard at a different life stage, including skeleton Merle Haggard who has the best songs of all Merles

Wisconsin smiled 30 roller skates yoked to guinea pigs like a chariot, steered by half-melted Barbie dolls

Illinois tripped over its 45 man-shaped boats and boat-shaped men, scaring everyone half-stupid

Michigan belched, but the kind where you swallow it and just dispel a jetstream of burp-colored breath through pursed lips, 41 grease-only dumpsters full of corporate spokespersons, deaf to mercy

Tennessee dry-heaved 33 orangutans in Bonobos brand internet luxury pants, 16 pairs waltzing elegantly and the one spare wheel sobbing on your shoulder

Florida air-kissed 46 monster trucks full of Al Pacinos

Alabama fake-hugged 27 short lengths of twine blown toward the war by an enormous set of lungs inside the moon

Last and being a baby about it, Mississippi finger-banged 19 cars shaped like the plastic bride and groom on top of a wedding cake, their eyes burning with wayward misery

where souls were being branded with the shapes of their hope

bottle

i inherited some garbled strain of depression-era conservation of materials from my grandparentses. right now this impulse to not-waste mostly expresses itself through paper products. i am incapable of throwing away notebooks before every page has been used somehow. i squirrel them away in the dining room hutch, planning to use up the nice white pages for journals or to-do lists or other attempts at communication with self. for a very long time my metabolism in this regard was fucked, in the sense of buying way more notebooks than i was filling. but i’m getting caught up. there are several notebooks of different types that look like this: notes from a german class i started but didn’t finish in 2007, then fretting about a botched romance from 2011, then scrambled notes about a movie i saw in 2014. almost always there is a little marginal note saying “whoops i did not write in this notebook for x years.”

so i started up with another of my mostly-blanked notebooks. there are maybe three of those mead wireless 80 page notebooks, the kind that always fall apart, all of which have dark blue covers. the one i grabbed is actually the notebook they gave me in rehab in october 2007, after i graduated from the super grim psych-ward part of rehab where they just leave you alone to digest food and metabolize meds, into the part where the rehab counselors described recovery to people concussed by the absence of intoxication. the notebooks were for writing down stuff about recovery, and that’s mostly what i did with mine, until i trailed off after 20 or so pages. but there was one page that just had a journalistic vignette on it.

most of the time in the rehab place we just did group therapy or focus groups or straight up AA meetings. but one day we went up to an otherwise unknown floor of the hospital (we had to be shepherded through the elevator like a field trip flock of children) to a light-filled room with windows high on the walls. it was the art room (the whole place now reminds me of an elementary school, although at the time it felt like … a rehab hospital).

the counselor gave us boxes of parched markers and blunt crayons and big sheets of paper the color of mopwater. the assignment was to draw something that symbolized your recovery. i drew a map, i remind, sort of a modified Pilgrim’s Progress type thing but heaven replaced by some kind of area where I felt comfortable in my own skin. my drawing was not the focus on the vignette in the notebook.

what i wrote down was about rudy’s drawing. rudy (not his real name) was this beefy, black-haired classical chicago irish meathead guy, about 40, very much just a swollen, mushy teenager stuck in a man’s body. he was thick and coarse and not at all bought-in on that rehab or even the general idea of not being fucked up. not long after the art therapy rudy sorted of flopped out of the boat, signing himself out AMA and hollering even as he walked out to fucked-up freedom what a bunch of bullshit it all was.

rudy’s drawing was an energetic but crude pencil rendering of a topless lady on a bed. she was on all fours, crawing toward the camera eye, sort of, and i think she was supposed to be leering sexily but the quality of rudy’s line was such that you could not really say what he meant by her expression. she was on a bed, and her nipples were upside-down pilgrim hats rendered in fairly precise right angles. behind the bed was a window, looking out onto a cartoony cityscape (water tower, etc) with a smiling moon overhead. the cityscape also featured a billboard labeled MEGAMILLIONS which stated that the current jackpot was $69,696,969.69. the only thing on the bed besides the crawling woman was a lottery ticket. Nothing in the drawing suggested whether this was the winning ticket. The drawing was titled (reduntantly) “Title: Prepare to Mount” and signed with rudy’s full name, including middle initial.

i only wrote all this down because the teacher made us go around the room and show our drawings, and say a little bit about what we had put on the paper. i can’t remember what rudy said by way of docent’s talk, but i remember the pure silence that followed his share as both historically awkward and almost beautiful. no one knew what to do with what he wanted.

watching the detectives

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I used to watch a lot of tv, as a bored, frequently lonely/alone kid. I have seen most of the episodes of M*A*S*H*, for instance, without meaning to, because channel 43 showed an hour of M*A*S*H* reruns twice a day, at times when I wasn’t structurally required to be doing something else (school, sleep, eating with family), and also times when no one else was watching TV (early or late local news, primetime shows). I want to stress that the amount of time that qualified as “not structurally required to be doing something else” was basically ALL the time. like if I was awake 16 hours a day, and I usually was, I was at school for eight hours, transitioning to/from school for another hour, and then pretty much watching TV a lot of the rest of the time.

this included: Watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. Watching regional pro wrestling on ESPN after school. Watching the same taped episode of SportsCenter over and over. Watching infomercials. Watching pan-and-scanned, cleaned-up versions of not-that-great movies on TBS. Watching USA Up All Night hoping despite myself that this would be the time they showed boobs (the 1990s were a distant and backwards land, as far as how hard it was to see boobs)

there was a reason for this: I had nothing else to do, not that anyone was stopping me from discovering other things to do. Sometimes I would dick around in less passive ways, or read, or play Nintendo. But yeah I didn’t do a whole lot. I like TV because it would take me out of a self that very often wasn’t super happy. So I could prop myself up on TV and just let stories and images and worlds pour in, which was good, because suburban Cleveland was not the richest place in terms of stimulation. But the propping up wasn’t just a rest — it was a compulsion, an addiction, operating under the cover of an innocuous defaulting-to (other addictions operate this way too).

quick aside/image: I used to watch infomercials so much. I would have told you it was ironic somehow, back in the day. Now I see it for what it was. In novels, specifically Wise Blood, I’ve read about soapbox preachers and traveling salesmen, standing in small cities, perched on the bumper of a car, hollering about Jesus or a potato peeler, with a few bored yokels. (Think of Enoch Emery). Those people didn’t watch because the Jesus patter or the potato peeler were hynotizing; they watched because they had nothing else to look at. Anyway that’s how I sometimes see the TV-drowned chapters of my young life: my chubby face reflecting the blue TV light like the walls of a swimming pool, watching the hucksters because they were there.

as i grew up and away from both suburbs and those preliminary versions of myself, I stopped watching so much TV. this was in part because I didn’t have a TV all to myself with cable, in a house where I didn’t have to pay rent. but it was also in part because I didn’t need TV in the same ways anymore, and because, the stuff on TV wasn’t as good as the sensory inputs available in meatspace (other people, specifically girls, college) and improvements on the TV value proposition (movies not shown on TBS, books). at no point do we ever stop propping our cracked or wobbly selves up against stories, other voices, in other to give them a rest, to prevent them from collapsing under the stress of being alone in your own skull.

anyway i grew up/out/away and before too much road was behind me, i looked back at the amount of TV that I watched with a little shiver of regret, like whoops, that was a pretty large chunk of my finite lifespan I farted away there. for a while, if you talked to me after a few beers, i would tell you that TV sucks, people who watch too much TV suck (the same way that ex-smokers are the biggest grinches about smoking), TV, yadda yadda. I wasn’t quite one of those weenies who brags about not having a TV, but I was a fellow traveler for sure. I definitely saw people who flicked through channels idly, watching whatever because it was easier than doing anything else, as zombified. And to be honest, I still make little bitchy judgments about people who watch indiscriminate amounts of TV. (Content zombification is a real thing; TV doens’t have a monopoly on it — say hello, narrowminded readers of literary fiction).

But with age I learned the mature pleasures of TV. you can relax after a day of slowly losing to fate by watching a TV program. you can share the joy of narrative or comedy by watching a TV program with friends and loved ones. you can fill a rainy day with a few binged episodes of a quality hourlong drama. TV is a medium it is OK to prop your battered self up against for a while, just not always. TV is fine, TV is not the enemy of anything, TV is just stories coming from a glowing box. You have to be mindful about what you let into your eyes and ears with TV, but this is also true of all other things.

The internet used to not be like TV, which is to say, I formely did not use the Internet the way that my adolescent self used TV — as a hiding place for someone who didn’t even understand what they were hiding from, or that they were hiding at all. I have been in the very slow motion process of understanding that I idly flick through the internet, keeping my e-mail and chat and twitter open in tabs pretty much whenever I’m working, in the hope that someone will ping me, some dopamine firecracker will light itself. I am on the internet to get relevant messages that are important to my ongoing human existence. The internet is more of a public place, owing to its interactivity, than TV ever could hope to be. But I also am leaning on the internet to prop up my self-understanding. But also I don’t want to go all the way in the other direction, like I did with TV, and become a roving ranter about how the Internet sucks (some aspects of networked human existence *do* suck, though).

The moral instruction here is bonecrunchingly insipid: moderation in all things, etc. I never said I was a prophet of mental hygiene. This is just how I feel about the Internet right now. I wonder if I haven’t gotten into the same dependency — using an always-on, always-there cultural thing to fill silences instead of living life.

side note: M*A*S*H* is pretty good

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you can have my garlic bread if you want it

evaluation of social media as a presence in my life, june 2015

pros
:: jokes
:: awareness of events not immediately within my sensory envelope
:: contact with other human beings
:: dopamine hits
:: learning things

cons
:: jokes
:: awareness of events not immediately within my sensory envelope
:: contact with other human beings
:: dopamine hits
:: learning things

car