A Boy and His Cat

My cat, Taylor, was more than just a cat. To me, he was dearly loved, a companion of sorts. To many others, he was the Devil, Satan, evil incarnate. He was a myth, a legend, the scourge of my neighborhood. I miss him.

He was black, and fat, with a white underbelly that stretched along his back-legs and up to his nose. His front paws, which he used to scratch countless friends and acquaintances of mine, were also white. In retrospect, it’s actually impressive how white he kept them, considering all the blood they drew.

He liked to hunt, people mostly. He’d wait until you were walking away, and then he’d crouch. After you had gone a few steps, far enough so you would think he’d lost interest in you, he would begin following. If you stopped, he’d stop – when you began walking again, so would he. Eventually he quickened his pace, and before you knew it you had cat claws in the back of your leg. He enjoyed the dining room best, where he could hide behind chair-legs and the low-hanging tablecloth.

Only two things could deter him – a careful approach to disarm his desire to hunt you, or a quick spritz from the squirt-bottles we kept close at all times. We usually handed one to new guests to our house. Our closer friends just hid behind us whenever Taylor approached.

Everyone who came to our house invariably saw Taylor’s reign of terror at some point or another. A friend’s little brother got trapped in our basement with him once. My parents heard him yelling for help. When they went down, they found him standing on a chair, Taylor sitting calmly in front of it.

What surprised me is when people who had never been there before asked me about him. One time in elementary school, a group of kids came over. At the door, one of them, who I only partially knew, and who had definitely never been to my house, asked, “wait, isn’t this where the evil cat lives?” Others expressed fear the moment they saw Taylor, even if they had never been attacked by him before. I gotta admit, I was proud.

We had trouble finding people to watch him whenever we went out of town. Whenever one person agreed to do it, we knew that they’d never agree again, and we got excited for new neighbors moving in because it meant one or two more potential house-sitters. It was our next-door neighbor’s son, Ryan, who christened him “Devil-Cat.” The name spread like wildfire among my friends and throughout the neighborhood. If I offered my house as a place to hang-out: “no, I’m not coming near that devil cat.”

He passed away during my senior year of high school. At first I didn’t think much of it. I was sad, but not even enough to really sigh with feeling the way you do when you lose someone or something you care for. But the loss accumulated over the weeks, months, and years afterwards. I still feel funny walking past our dining-room table, my shins instinctively expecting an assault. I carry his memory with me always, in the scar-lines you can still find on my arms.

The funny thing about it all, though, is that I really did love Taylor, that looking at pictures of him makes me miss living in semi-perpetual fear around him. I grew up with Taylor, I knew him in a way I can’t explain. My friends would sometimes watch in a combination of horror and derision when I would get down on the floor near Taylor and put my face right up to his, touching his nose with mine. They didn’t know if they should call me a dork or call an ambulance for my soon-to-be scratched-out eyes. But I could just read it in Taylor, that I’d be alright, that he’d sit still and purr.

A couple of times during middle school, he vomited on my backpack – I don’t know why my backpack was his favorite receptacle for this, or why it had to be in the mornings, before school. I stupidly never kept a spare backpack in the house, so all I could do was wash off as much as I could, then walk through school all day with the worst-smelling backpack known to man. The entire day would be spent apologizing to people, explaining the smell, guiltily trying to tuck it away in some magical stink-free compartment beneath my desk. Yet, despite the vomit, despite driving people away from my house and attacking me, I still loved him. And if that’s not love, then I don’t know what it is. Except maybe stupidity.

Published in: on October 23, 2011 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Script Reads Me!

I’m no stranger to acting. An awkward acquaintance, maybe. I was an extra in my high school’s production of Once Upon a Mattress, and even performed in a one-act play that same year (the title or author of the play I can’t say, as I forgot I was even in this play until the other day, when it struck me in a random fit of remembrance). That’s all to say, I get the gist of acting. As Ian McKellen so artfully put it, “What I do is, I pretend to be the person I’m portraying in the film or play.”

During my time at NYU, I somehow got roped into a large degree of film work – large for an English major anyways. One of my first instances of this was helping out a friend who was running some auditions for a short film he was shooting. I read the role opposite the one he was casting for. He was looking for a young woman, and for the auditions was using an exercise of a script, an adaptation of a scene from Catcher in the Rye. The prostitute scene, before the pimp shows up. The young women auditioning were reading for the prostitute. I was Holden Caulfield.

What I really mean to say is, “I was what Holden Caulfield would be if your average high school actor were pretending to be Holden Caulfield.” I was taking a class called “Theory of Drama” that semester, so I’ll be honest – I thought I would walk in and be Holden. I had read theories about acting, about what it means to embody a character, and I had nodded and thought to myself (while reading these theories in my dorm-room bed, having nothing to do with acting whatsoever), “my god, acting must be so easy if this is all it is!” Subtlety and nuance and believability are surprisingly more complicated to pull off, especially when the character you’re playing off of is attempting to seduce you.

The first girl walked in, and yes, she was young and pretty. She sat down, my friend and I told her the whole routine: you’re auditioning for this other role but here’s the script we’re using, and Matt here will play Holden, and take a moment and whenever you’re ready you can start. I smiled awkwardly (as I do around young and pretty girls), looking over the lines I was supposed to read, the lines it didn’t matter if I read well or not. She took a moment of silence. Then she looked up at me and smiled, and everything had changed. It wasn’t the smile of the girl who had walked in a moment ago – it was the smile of the prostitute! And she was seducing me, not-Holden Caulfield.

I read my lines, awkwardly, too much emphasis, too much emotion, like I was reading a script. She faltered a couple of times, but for the most part, she read her lines with conviction, with confidence. I thought, “she wants me.” I thought, “no she doesn’t, she’s pretending to want Holden Caulfield, she’s acting.” I thought, “she wants me.”

She left, the next girl came. She seemed so opposite from the first girl – where the first girl had a rounded face, hers was slimmer; the first girl was taller, she was shorter; the first girl seemed in a hurry, she could take her time. I thought, “she can’t be a prostitute.” Start whenever you’re ready, moment of silence. She was that prostitute.

This time it was the eyes, the eyes of someone who could sell their body for money, who could separate any pleasure from the act of sex, who was looking to seduce a john to make some cash. All this from her eyes. “She wants me.” When it was over, she smiled, not the prostitute’s smile but her own smile, relaxed, pleased that the audition was over.

I was naïve, obviously (this was only two years ago, but you’re never too old for naivety). Since then I’ve grown more calculating, been able to see through the illusion’s threads more clearly. The change comes on in the actor or actress, and I am judging how well they fit into the character’s skin. But that first time across from those actresses, those eyes, those smiles, that first time reading with people who know how to act, who have trained how to act – “She wants me.” I’d like to believe I would never fall for it again in my lifetime, but you really are never too old for naivety.

Published in: on October 1, 2011 at 1:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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Fuck Yeah: The Blues

Everyone gets the blues. And I mean that in two ways:

1.) We all feel the blues.
2.) We all understand the blues.

So what are the blues? Musically speaking, the blues are, at their simplest, a progression of three 7th chords, starting with the tonic (the chord of whatever key the song’s in), then the 4th, back to the tonic, then the dominant, the 4th, and back to your tonic. In the key of G, it’s four bars of G7, then two bars of C7 and two bars of G7, then a bar of D7, a bar of C7, and two last bars of G7. What does all that mean? Nothin’ if you don’t got the feelin’.

The blues are pain, man. The blues are about having lost your woman and knowing your woman is cheating on you and not being able to get over your woman. Oh yeah, they’re about other stuff besides women too, like, uh, um…hold on…I’ll get back to you. So do you need to be in pain to play the blues? God no, otherwise all blues musicians would do is mope around feeling sorry for themselves. They’d probably start playing blues songs about having the blues because they have the blues, a cycle that would explode in a fiery-blast of meta-bullshit.

The great thing about the blues is, they’re not all about pain. Not every song is about blowing your brains out with a shotgun (as in “Shotgun Blues”), or blowing your woman’s brains out with a gun (as in “Hey Joe”). They’re about enjoying life, about connecting with the people you’re playing with, the people you’re listening to, the people you’re listening to it all with. It’s about taking whatever it is you’re feeling and sharing it with everyone around you. You can tell when someone’s a great blues musician because it doesn’t even sound like they’re playing written music anymore. It’s like whatever he’s feeling is going past thought and calculation, straight to his fingertips and out of whatever instrument he’s holding. On the Jimi Hendrix acoustic recording of “Hear My Train A-Comin’” you can even hear him humming what he’s playing as he’s playing it.

Last summer I went to a Jack Johnson concert, and one of the opening bands was G. Love, a blues guy out of Philly. Before him was a typical band, drummer and bassist and keyboardist and guitarist, and the same with Jack Johnson’s band after him. When it was G. Love’s time to play, he came out there alone, with just a guitar, and sat near the front of the stage. Did he need a band? Hell no. He played some bluesy songs, pounding his foot on the stage for his drum-section, and he had the crowd as entranced as any of the other bands there. His fingers played along the neck of his guitar like he was rewriting his songs as he was playing them, to the point where I imagine his “drafts” of the songs are probably just lyrics and song-keys. He sounded like he could play any of those songs by instinct, as easily as sleeping or eating. Now that was good blues music.

After having said all of that, I do have to admit, I really don’t know why I love the blues as much as I do. I’m a half-white, half-black kid who grew up in the suburbs of MD, who enjoyed listening to Eminem and Ludacris and 50 Cent in my younger days, who has no particular ties to the south other than my mom’s relatives in Virginia. Maybe I was a blues musician in a past-life, or maybe I’m just weird. But something about the blues does it for me. My not-so-secret dream is to abandon my life and everything I know, hit the road with nothing but my guitar and some clean underwear, and become a blues musician. A friend of mine graciously reminded me how, on the bus-ride to our high school graduation, I sang “Sweet Home Chicago” out loud for everyone to hear, despite the fact that I’ve never been to Chicago. I’m probably crazy. But I could also probably write a blues song about being crazy, and I’d be just fine with that.

Published in: on September 24, 2011 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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To Be In Like With You

Kelly Thomas, black with chipmunk cheeks and big eyes and a bigger smile. It was 6th grade, and she was the first girl I ever seriously liked. And this was true “like-liking” someone right there. This was stay up at night thinking about her liking someone, looking forward to school just to see her liking.

We started off just being friendly with each other, hanging out in gym and at school dances, exchanging goofy smiles in the hallways. So how did I show her my true feelings? Well, I didn’t.

Can anyone understand the stupidity that was younger me? No, I shouldn’t call it stupidity. More like crippling self-consciousness, dressed up with stupidity. Kelly and I carried on for weeks being totally in like with each other (it’s like being in love but for middle schoolers). It was obvious to everyone we liked each other. Hence why everyone began hounding me to ask her out. Her friends cornered me during gym when she had already gone, “are you gonna ask her out yet?” The guys on the bus were typically guy-ish about it, “dude, ask her out man!” How did you ask someone out though? When, where, what do you possibly say? Didn’t matter, I was too scared to say it, to admit my feelings out loud. Even knowing she would say yes, I couldn’t imagine the moment without cowering in fear. Puberty gave me an extra helping of anxiety and shame.

The end of the year approached, still nothing from me. And then I got it, handed off to me from a friend of mine, something square and flat that opened like a book, only it opened into a larger four-paneled square that you could write on both sides. On both sides, on alternating panels, she had written “I <3 YA” and “Will you go out with me?” Do you know what the first thing I thought was? Oh no, a girl asked me out! This wasn’t how the world worked, girls did not ask boys out. If the guys found out about this, they’d rag on me for sure. No, I had to fix this.

That night, I wrote my own letter to her, asking her out. This way, it was as if her asking me out had never happened. Genius! The next day, the last day of school incidentally, I slipped her the letter in the morning, never acknowledging hers. “Here,” I muttered, and then I ran. I was smooth.

I had also one-upped her – included in my letter was a phone number. She called me that night. “I saw your letter,” she said in a sweet voice. “You did?” I said, equally sweet back, dying of nervousness. Talking on the phone with a girl. Big steps. “Should I read what you wrote?” she asked. My response? My romantic, I am head-over-heels in like with you response? “Nah, that’s okay, I know what it says.” Again, smooth.

She called again the next day – our conversations were actually nice, lasting for hours with only minimal awkwardness. The day after that, no call. I thought, oh, well, maybe tomorrow. No call. I thought, oh, I guess I should call her. I didn’t. Was it a lack of like? Hardly. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, both with calling her and with our future. Would we hold hands? Or even – oh god – kiss? It was too much, I broke under the pressure. I never called her.

7th grade started. I waited eagerly for a class with her – gym, but different sections, so we wouldn’t be seeing each other. A couple weeks in, a message sent via friend again. We were broken up. Such was the end of my torrid like-affair with the one Kelly Thomas.

My life has more or less followed this routine actually – girl confesses her feelings for me (feelings I had long shared but had been too scared to voice aloud), I respond positively (albeit awkwardly), we date, I’m cripplingly shy and nervous, she dumps me, repeat. My college roommate, who was and is practicing celibacy to become a Jesuit priest, once told me, “you need to get laid Matthew.” When I pointed out the irony of a celibate priest-in-training telling me to get laid, he responded, “what I mean is, you need to have passion.”

So perhaps I have only ever been in like. And perhaps, if I ever wanna experience love, then I should speak, I should act, I should be driven by passion! Coming from my Jesuit priest-in-training roommate, it’s practically a mission from God.

Published in: on September 16, 2011 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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9/11, I Hardly Knew Thee

In Junior year of college, I helped out a friend who was shooting a short-film. To transport some of the equipment, a girl on the crew and I threw some cases in a cab and rode with them to the set. The girl put on her seatbelt. I hadn’t seen anyone put a seatbelt on in a cab since – well, since I had done so in Freshman year, the first time I took one. So I asked, “you’re putting on your seatbelt?” “Yeah,” she said, “I don’t know why. Every time I ride in a cab, I just need to put on my seatbelt.” She paused briefly. “Maybe it’s because I saw the Twin Towers fall from my apartment building.” I paused briefly. “Oh, wow,” I said, because that’s all you really can say when someone’s just told you they saw 9/11 happen right outside their window.

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 rolls around, I’m being treated to my parents swapping 9/11 stories they’ve heard, people who should’ve gone to work but didn’t, heroic acts of self-sacrifice. I expect the major networks will have tributes and programs on the actual day, especially since it’s a Sunday. I guess my big problem is, I’ve never really felt connected to 9/11. I live near D.C., the Pentagon is practically in my backyard, but there wasn’t much coverage of what happened there, at least not to an 11-year-old.

Where was I when the Towers fell and the Pentagon was hit? In 7th grade, at school, hearing the news come in step-by-step secondhand. Kids were being pulled from school by their parents – they were the lucky ones, not because they were safe at home in the time of a national crisis, but because they just got a free day off school. It wasn’t until they flat-out canceled the rest of the day, or when, upon arriving home, my Mom hugged me and told me to sit with her and watch the news coverage, that I began to wonder if maybe this was a bigger deal than I thought.

I’ve always felt a little guilty over this, that I didn’t share in the general panic and anxiety over 9/11. I mean, I was 11 years old. My biggest concern at this point was rebelling against the Yu-Gi-Oh craze by not buying any cards. My Mom asked me the other day, “do you even remember 9/11?” I shot her a look of disbelief. “Yeah, of course I did!” But, to be honest, I didn’t feel any of the fear that she must have felt that day. I had yet to hear of a body count, the idea that our country was possibly being attacked by foreign forces didn’t occur to me, I didn’t even know what the Twin Towers were. Even if I had known, would I have reacted then? My knowledge of politics consisted of knowing who the President was (I was already convinced Clinton was the best President ever, so Bush was going to fail my standards no matter what) and everything I had learned so far in world history – namely, World War II, and Greece/Rome. From all that, war seemed like a thing that just happened. Yes, we were attacked, but did I have enough money to buy zebra-cakes with my lunch?

We discussed this in a Fiction writing class of mine, when a girl wrote a story involving 9/11 (but it wasn’t a “9/11 Story,” which frighteningly enough still makes sense to me as a writer). Our professor conjectured that we were too young to understand what was going on, and we admitted that he was right. I have gone entire anniversaries of 9/11 without realizing what day it was. I am heartless, I am unfeeling. By McCarthy standards, I am probably an un-American Communist.

Part of my misgivings with 9/11 has always been, what am I supposed to make of it?
These past few years I’ve learned some of that fear. I’ve had nightmares about air-strikes, nuclear attacks. In the aftermath of the recent earthquake, I had some difficulty making calls to some friends, and it occurred to me that a targeted attack on us would probably disable communications as a preliminary strike. But after the world has moved on, after Osama has been found and killed, after a decade of new possible threats, ranging from war to disease to economic collapse, what am I supposed to make of 9/11 now?

Maybe it’s about the strength to survive. Maybe, decades more from now, I’ll tell my kids about 9/11 and exaggerate everything I felt, creating a mythos of crisis and terror, that the event struck the “nation” with fear, when really it was only those old enough to understand what that meant. Maybe it’s simpler than all that, a day to remember that terrible things happen. It’s the feeling I get when I watch the TV-series Treme, which is about the recovery of New Orleans after Katrina. Maybe I’ll never understand completely, maybe my generation never will. But we’ll continue on, and we’ll continue to rebuild. We will acknowledge the past and create our future. Isn’t that all we can do really? When it comes down to it, we’ll remember those 9/11 stories as some proof that, yes, bad things happen, but not to everyone. There are survivors, and they will carry on.

So I live in the aftermath of 9/11, my world is transformed from it. But I’ll still live my life the way I should. It’s all you can ask of anyone.

Published in: on September 10, 2011 at 12:26 am  Leave a Comment  

War of the Squirrels

My parents have been at war with the squirrels since we moved into this house when I was four. Of course, the war wasn’t inherent to the house, that’d be hard for even the craftiest real-estate agent to pitch. “Here’s your backyard, with a lovely porch to look out at the trees and the birds and THE SQUIRRELS THAT YOU SHALL BATTLE and oh look it’s your neighbor!” I’ll admit, I’d find that pretty exciting, but that’s probably why 21-year-old college graduates aren’t out buying townhouses.

No, it began with the bird-feeders. My parents have always loved birds, and we live in the suburbs – birdhouses and feeders almost have to happen to you. This is when the squirrels began their assault, swinging on the feeders, knocking them down, doing basically whatever they could to get food out of them. They broke feeders, my Dad bought new ones. They shook food out of them, my Dad bought “squirrel-proof” ones. Squirrel-proof is a lie designed by bird-feeder companies to get you to believe they have the better design. Iron-grating, special hatches – absolutely none of these things deters a squirrel from eating bird-food. Thus, the war.

It’s less World-War II and more Cold War, though sometimes it feels like Vietnam. Here’s the common battle scenario: I’m in my room, reading or watching TV or writing. From there I can hear the backdoor open, my parents going out, talking amongst themselves (they don’t know I can hear them from my room – they also have nothing juicy to eavesdrop on, so I mostly ignore them). Then, in the middle of a sentence: “HEY! GET OFF OF THERE!” Followed by the skittering of claws rushing away along tree-branches, leaves shaking violently. “God, these squirrels,” one of them will say, usually my Mom, “I hate them so much! That food’s not for you!” Part of me, the romantic side of me, believes my parents’ marriage is strengthened by their hate.

There’ve been plans, threats. If my Dad has the hose already out, he’s not afraid to use it. There was once talk of buying a super-soaker, one of the huge ones that can practically bruise someone if you fire it close enough. This was my favorite plan in elementary school, since it’d basically mean a free super-soaker for me, but it never came to fruition (I still hold out hope, honestly). The intention was never to harm the squirrels, just to scare them off. The main intention I mean – I’m sure my parents would have at least chuckled at the sight of one getting blasted into the trees. Recently their talk has been of designing a trap to capture them, then relocating them all to the other side of the Chesapeake. Of course they’d never go through with this – for now anyway.

I will admit, the squirrels are crafty. Every design meant to thwart them from getting at that bird-food, they thwart. It’s almost magical. My Dad will bring home a new, hopeful feeder, within a couple days we’ll see bird-food scattered on the ground beneath it. “Took ‘em longer this time,” my Mom will say. But I also need to mention that they are a genuine nuisance and my parents are not insane. Well, they probably are, but not for this reason. A few years ago, some of these squirrels decided it’d be a good idea to set-up house in a neighbor’s house, specifically at the top of their chimney. Long-story short, luckily the fire didn’t spread.

Still, our house didn’t burn down, so I’ve always found this war peculiar. It seems like such a strange thing to be angry about. Why fight them? Why not just let them have at the food? The birds still come. What’s the big deal?

I’ve had my own run-in with the squirrels. Washington Square Park, NYC, Autumn. It was a nice day, so I decided to eat lunch outside. I was busy eating my Quiznos sub when I noticed the squirrel eyeing my bag of chips. I pulled the chips closer to me. He didn’t budge. I opened the bag, ate a chip. He didn’t budge. He wanted those chips. I wanted them. We were at an impasse. Finally, he gave up and scurried off. Did a squirrel just attempt to bully me into giving him chips? I thought to myself. Suddenly the war didn’t seem quite as silly.

It boils down to two things, the way I see it. The first is: people can be silly sometimes. It’s a fact of life. Sometimes we go toe-to-toe with the forces of nature, and sometimes those forces are furry little animals that like bird-food. We all have our random peeves that we’d go to war for, I have my list of topics-to-rant-about (fucking Nicholas Cage man). It’s just the way we are. Sometimes, you need to hate things irrationally.

Oh, and the second thing: squirrels actually are crafty, evil little bullies. Seriously, watch out.

Published in: on September 2, 2011 at 2:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Letters to a Past Me (High School Poet)

***In the same vein as my “Fuck Yeah” series (which I will try to do another post of in a couple weeks), I’m starting a new and hopefully more unique series of posts, titled “Letters to a Past Me.” Title pretty much says it all: in these posts, I will be writing letters to the sort of person I was 5, 10, 15 years ago. Oh, trust me, it will be embarrassing, and I will probably regret these posts the moment I hit that “Publish” button here on WordPress, but it’ll all be worth it if you fine folks at least enjoy them. So, without any further interruptions…
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Dear Me (High School Poet),

I shouldn’t discourage you. After all, every writer has to start somewhere, and you never imagined that you were going to be a poet by profession. Some of these poems have a nice sense of rhythm even. But why all the melodrama? Let’s just take a little stanza:

The skies now darken on all of my sight,
The beginning of what shall be my final end,
And though I’ve strived to spread only happiness and light
The fatigue in me has torn my soul too far to mend.

Of course I’m speaking from hindsight, but even at the time, God, all you do is whine whine whine. Everything is dark, everything is despair. What’s really amazing is how you manage to write about darkness and agony and angst when you live an average life in the suburbs. Seriously, where is all this pain coming from?

Oh, wait. Oh my God, you’re aware of all this:

My dear heart,
What causes your ache?
You’ve felt no blow
And have yet to break,
And, still, the barriers of sanity quake…
For darkness is my only foe,
For whom I’ve no amends to make…

Oh wow, really? “The barriers of sanity quake”? Even when you realize how silly you’re being, you’re still being silly. I think it’s a gift of the high school teenager actually. You actually create something from nothing – or rather, maybe it’s just angst created from hormones run wild. Either way, it’s impressive, it takes skill to be this unhappy for no reason.

Ah, but you were lovesick too! And no lovesick poetry-writing teenage boy is complete without an ample cache of love poems. For instance:

And your voice, how it sings
From your throne in the sky,
Capturing mortal hearts
And lifting us high.

No one can ever say I didn’t put women on a pedestal. That’s from a Valentine’s Day poem. I’ll admit, it’s sweet, as are most of those poems. Here’s another bit:

Love knows not one
More faithful than I
For, sooner will I die
Than call our love done
Just fall in my arms
And share with me bliss
In the sweet innocence
Of an eternal kiss.

“Eternal kiss”? In retrospect, that sounds so creepy. Funny thing is, I don’t even remember who, if anyone, inspired me to write this poem – so much for that “faithfulness.”

Looking back on all these poems, I gotta admit – they’re a special kind of terrible, literally. They’re undoubtedly bad, as all high school poetry has to be. “Love” and “above” should never be rhymed together that often, everything is either the most beautiful thing ever or the darkest thing ever (I’m beginning to wonder if being a teenager is its own form of manic-depression), and they always last forever. Always. But, like I said, you had to start somewhere, and one of the golden rules of all artistic professions is that you start terribly.

So it’s okay, past me. I forgive you. Hey, at least these poems meant something to you back then. Hell, they still do in a way. I can’t read them without feeling a bit of nostalgia, even if it is over angst and hopeless lovesickness. And maybe you had to write these for me, so I could look back and really see how much more there is to life than feeling tired and lonely and wanting to be loved. There’s blogging about how you used to feel tired and lonely and wanted to be loved.

And now, to close, one last golden stanza of yours:

Bind me to your heart my dear.
In pain, I wish to feel you near
In dark, abolish all my fear
At world’s end, let us find a pier
And we’ll sail off towards galaxies
That we have never been before.
Would you be my everything
So we could be something more…

Sincerely,
Me

Published in: on August 27, 2011 at 1:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Playgrounds of Yesteryear

I think it happened overnight. Or maybe while I was over at a friend’s house during the day. Possibly while I was in the middle of blinking. Either way, all I know is, one day, at the exact moment I wasn’t looking, someone decided to remove the playground across from my house, the playground that was there since I was 4. I imagine the person who made this decision to be old, very old, with a particular fondness for taking joy away from children, especially while cackling maniacally to an accompaniment of thunder and lightning. This person may well be the Grinch.

It wasn’t a fancy playground at all. Actually, it was about as cheap as you can get: swing-set, see-saw, three balance beams of differing heights, and those eerily cheerful animals that swing back and forth (and which can only be ominous figures in horror movies, because no child ever earnestly plays on them), all over a contained batch of woodchips. By today’s standards, this playground was a death-trap. Everything was wooden (on no, not splinters!), all chains and handles were made from what I can only assume was second-rate iron (on no, blisters too!), and the only thing to break a high and unfortunate fall (say, from standing on top of the see-saw and watching your “friend” let you drop like a stone) was woodchips, dirt, and common sense, which quite possibly no young boy has until the age of…not yet determined.

When I was a kid though, it was one of those few places where you could go after school and just count on kids being there. It conjoined three separate streets, so kids from all over flocked there at some point or another. I remember games of tag or hide-and-seek being delegated there, rounds of soccer being set-up, all with kids who I’d never met before, who I didn’t even go to school with. I remember a crowd of us playing catch with a football once, and I remember jumping high for the catch, losing my footing on the fall, and accidentally doing a banana-split. I should add that I could not normally do a banana-split, so I’m sure, even across the neighborhood, people were wondering what on Earth was howling like a wolf in a trap. But I also remember the girl I had a crush on, An-Ning, coming over and asking if I was okay, and suddenly feeling my pain disappear. Sure, it was a lame playground, but only kids could take something so lame and turn it into some memorable.

Now it’s just a bunch of grass with sketchy patches of dirt, and some old picnic tables that I wouldn’t have eaten off of even back then (5-second rule or not, a kid has to have his principles). Kids just take to the streets now, which is totally a positive alternative to woodchip-splinters and bruises. One girl, who can’t be older than 8, seems to have some sort of grudge against me, since she chases after my Ford Focus in a wagon, waving her fists in the air. It seems I have an 8 year old nemesis, and I now live in constant fear that she’s going to try and joust my car.

Even though I never played on that playground anymore (if only because I’m highly paranoid that people would think I’m a pedophile), it’s weird to think that it’s gone. It was a nice and quiet place to sit with friends and talk still. When I look over there, there’s always a split-second where I imagine that it’s still there, that it never left. But then my eyes refocus and I see the blank space for what it is. You know, I know I’d get in trouble for this, and it’d be an entirely thankless job probably, but I wish I could study up on wood-working and construction, and just build the playground back again. If only to spite whichever homeowner-associate thought it was a good idea to get rid of playgrounds in a suburb. And to keep my nemesis off the streets.

Published in: on August 21, 2011 at 10:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Life Sans Wisdom (Tooth)

I’m sitting in the room, on the dentist’s chair, thinking, is this it? I know, I know, it’s only oral surgery, and for 1 wisdom tooth at that. Everyone’s been asking all week, “really, only the one?” Yep, only the one. I’m sure this has metaphorical bearing on how much wisdom I really have, but we’ll save that for another time. Anyway, I’m in the chair, and everything just feels so…normal. I get to keep my shoes on, AND my shirt on (I for some reason have this epic image in mind of my shirt being covered in blood, or having to be cut off because of…I don’t know, cardiac-arrest maybe?), the most that happens with my cell phone is that I turn it off. We could’ve did this in the waiting room for all the prep that’s necessary!

Then we start getting serious – wires, monitors, beeping and measurements. There’s a heart monitor, which I’m enjoying messing with. Deep breath in – beepbeepbeepbeep. Deep breath out – beep…….beep. This is connected via arm clamps with black, red, and white wires running from them, which remind me a bit too much of electrical cables, until I begin to wonder exactly how a modern electric-chair would work these days. Maybe similar to this?

I’ve never had a surgery before in my entire life, not even tonsils. I’ve experienced this kind of monitor before – long story for a different blog-post – but not with the intention that afterwards I’ll be without some piece of my body. Wisdom teeth are weird though. I only had the one, to the right of my mouth, slightly impacted so that the inside of my cheek kept getting caught there, which was creating a pleasant little sore that I was dying to keep. But other than that, it wasn’t much of a bother. Nothing like getting a sore-throat from tonsils, or having a ticking time-bomb of an appendix explode in me (a particular phobia of mine). It was surgery, but not really.

So the surgeon and a nurse come in, and they begin the knocking-out process: laughing gas, then an injection of…well, something, I didn’t bother asking, which is actually a terrifying thought now. I let these strangers put me to sleep with some unknown chemical! That’s like going to a random party and drinking only out of an unsupervised cup marked “Roofies Plz!” I’m breathing in the laughing gas, and…nothing’s happening. I’m looking around. The surgeon’s making jokes about things that I don’t find particularly funny, but I giggle out of politeness (and because this man’s about to have his way with my mouth and pissing him off is perhaps akin to suicide). The nurse says, “it’ll just make you feel numb and tingly.” I feel a momentary wave of tingles, followed by…more nothing. Here’s where I get nervous. After 5 minutes of this waiting-game, the surgeon goes ahead and gives me the injection.

Here’s where I feel things kicking in. Not sleepiness so much as feeling…high? First peace, and then the paranoia that I wouldn’t come out of whatever drug-induced stupor this was. I think about my parents, my friends, a particular girl I’m rather fond of (only to fit my profile as a romantic). I’m not gonna die – it’s a wisdom tooth, not a kidney – but it feels necessary somehow. Like when you tell someone you’re going through “surgery,” you’re sort of saying, “hey, someone’s going to do significant changes to my bodily structure, here’s hoping nothing goes wrong so I can see you again.”

I’m feeling enough peacefulness to kinda shut my eyes, though then I open them back up cause I don’t want the dentist to start cutting things when I’m not actually out yet. He, however, has begun making a go of the tools, which couldn’t look more like Dark-Age era torture devices if they tried. He prods a couple into my mouth. They don’t feel sharp, but that doesn’t stop my instincts for avoiding surgery while awake, so I push them away with my tongue, harder than I knew I was capable actually. The dentist laughs a bit, puts the objects back into my mouth. I blink my eyes…and then he’s pulling them out. “Well, you’re all done, you did a great job!” I’m confused. I noticed the time was 12:25 when we began. I check my watch: 12:45. Did 20 minutes literally just happen in the blink of an eye?

They wheelchair me to the car, which I laugh about at first, until I realize that I’ve walked straighter lines while drunk. And so it’s all done. I am now wisdom-tooth less, though I don’t feel different about it at all. In a way, it almost verifies me as a functioning adult, someone who could live in the world. And yet, I had chicken noodle soup for dinner and felt like a child with every bite. So who’s to say what I am really, except verifiably without wisdom.

Published in: on August 17, 2011 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Graduation Nation


“There you go, congratulations.”

I look up, momentarily confused. “What?”

“I said, congratulations.”

“What for?”

“You know, graduating college?”

I look down at the purple gown folded and wrapped in clear plastic, held into a neat bundle by the stiff black cap. “Right,” I say, “thanks,” still not sure exactly what I’ve done. Congratulations don’t seem fitting for this somehow. Maybe more like, “my condolences,” or, “good luck,” or “don’t panic.” I feel as though, instead of being handed a cap & gown, someone should be handing me a drink.

People said “congratulations” when I graduated high school too, and it’s always confused me – what have I accomplished? Plenty of people graduate. I graduated high school alongside hundreds of other students, and now alongside thousands. And the work for it was not exactly the most stressful, reading and writing. I read and write on my own time, so doing it for school isn’t exactly that big of a change. I majored in English, which I like to describe as “majoring in a language I already speak fluently.” None of it was ever really that hard, and the hardest of it all I’ve already forgotten most of.

For Graduation itself, all I get is a diploma saying I put up with it all, along with a golden tassel for graduating with honors (though I don’t get to keep the cap or gown, essentially making it useless after the ceremony), and a Founder’s Day award for having a high-enough GPA (which is unfortunately named because there is no day on which you celebrate receiving a Founder’s Day award, so what is Founder’s day then?). So really, what am I being congratulated on? It seems just delaying the hunt for an actual job with four years of acquired skills that are abstract at best. “Of course you can trust me to answer phones, I can respond with some lines from Paradise Lost and explain why they represent Milton’s anxieties over human sexuality!” Sounds like a golden job interview to me.

I won’t say it was all for nothing though, and not just for the interesting insights I now have thanks to being one out of every fiftieth person to have completed Moby Dick. Probably the strangest thing about college is that looking back on the beginnings and realizing how you’ve come out on the other side, different in so many ways. I began college with a penchant for the philosophical and the airy, for anything abstract and idealistic, and now I can’t stand all that. I’ve grown down-to-earth. I’ve become the type of person who finds contradictions like “growing down-to-earth” funny, which is probably more of a step in the wrong direction.

Most significantly, I began college telling people that I wanted to be a writer, though I wouldn’t dare set a word onto a blank page. And now I’ve come to this point where I write, and sometimes I fret and slave too much over it all, but then, suddenly, there’s a finished story in front of me. And I enjoy it! It is mine, wholly my creation. These stories aren’t perfect – they need revisions and edits and improvements, and it will be months still before I deem them finished. But I read over the words and find, I think anyway, a certain beauty, something worth it all. I find a sense of control and insight I don’t think I could have developed on my own, haphazardly reading classic literature without understanding a bit of it all.

And so tomorrow I graduate from NYU’s College of Arts and Sciences, and on Wednesday I graduate NYU all together. But I’ve already come out on the other side of it all, different in so many ways that I enjoy. And I still have hope for my future, hope that we’ll all be alright, that I will be able to do the things I have to do and the things I want to do. So these “congratulations” are perhaps fitting, but not because of graduation. When I see my friends back home again, I’ll be different, but not because of a ceremony or a diploma. Just from the whole trip of it all.

Published in: on May 16, 2011 at 3:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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