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Emotions can ferment and rot in your insides.  They can spoil at the bottom of your stomach, unvoicable.  They can block your bowel movements or give you diarrhea; they can sit at rest somewhere in your intestines and keep you from getting effectively drunk.  They can keep the coffee from working, or force you asleep before you’re tired like a narcoleptic.  They can make the food taste like metal and make your stomach rumble and make you wish you could breathe fire.  You can let them sit there inside you OR you can vomit them out.  You can scream in punk bands, or along to Black Flag records. You can ease them out with osmosis, or by hanging upside down in your closet.  You can coax them out with paragraphs written on a park bench, like this one, and afterwards notice how you feel better than any running, excercising, or yoga could ever make you feel.  You can forget about them and hope reading the news, or having a boyfriend or girlfriend, or staying very busy with mildly repetitive tasks can help.  Or you can sit down and try to untangle them—choking and pulling them out from your throat like entrails, and laying the yards on the table, smelling like a dead animal; a jumbled, nonsensical mass of life lived, gradients of positive and negative experience—unanalyzed and hopeless.  These are things we have to sort out for ourselves.

What To Do?

I stretch and make my way to the laptop and fiddle with the plug until I can pull up my Gmail and log in—everyone is there, everyone on chat that I’ve missed in my long voyage through the night. All my friends’ names are lit up, electrified by the morning screen. If I have any new messages, I’m excited—a sense of importance, of being-in-the-world floods through me, like planting seeds and waking up to find little green sprouts. I don’t respond to the messages immediately—but rather let the feeling soak in, and sign off before anyone else can get a chance to notice that I’m there online. I make my coffee then and stare out of the barred windows of my apartment, looking to see what the weather is like. I don’t know how long I sit there, staring. I get up periodically and pace the room, make coffee, sit on the couch. The sky is gray outside, as it always is. The windows look out onto a withered yard. Everyone was there when I signed onto the Internet this morning. And the several emails that make me feel happy. Sal messaged me, and we discussed our future plans.

“When I get out, I want to work on a sailboat. I’ve signed up for a crewing website and said I’m interested.”

“Yeah, that’s cool! Maybe I’ll sign up.” I said.

“You should.” He said.

“We should head off to Fiji,” he said.

“That’s far away.”

“That’s the point. We’ll be so far away…and everyone will still be here.”

“Yeah.” I wrote feeling hesitant. I looked at a crewing site—it was very complicated to sign up. I lost interest. I get a couple of more emails for work—a couple of my co-workers were having a hard time with a database and CC’d everybody in our department. I sighed and went to a left-wing magazine website and started reading an article about Kurdistan. Kurdistan was really three countries—the people there were Muslims, but moderate Muslims, so they drink and smoke and don’t often support militants. It sounded pretty nice. There were no pictures but I imagined it was dusty and friendly place with big cars, good food, and plenty of hash. I made a note to go there one day and eventually lost interest in the article. My mother messaged me on Gchat, popping up.

“Hello, son.” She wrote. I could tell she was in a good mood.

“Hi.” I wrote.

“When are you coming home?” she wrote. I could tell she missed me.

“Soon, I hope” I wrote, feeling bad about myself.

“When is soon? How will you get here?”

“I haven’t planned when.” I wrote, being honest.

“We miss you.” She wrote, “Everyone here misses you.

“I miss everybody.” I typed, “I’ve got a year left.”

“Well we’re thinking of you.” She wrote.

“I love you.” I wrote and sat on the couch, sighing. Then I heard a noise and jumped—the hiss of the steam heat turning on. The flat screen in the center of the room was black. The light coming from the lamp and computer didn’t fill up my room; it was if a vortex had opened somewhere and was sucking out light.

I cleaned my coffee mug and put away my dishes and wondered how many more were out there like me—sitting in their little apartments on a rug in the center of the room not at work in the dead wintertime, bars on their windows. I felt at the little square lump behind my ear and wondered if it was cancer and sighed more. I picked up my kindle from the shelf and played with it in my hands, shifting to Don Quixote. The words came to the screen like black grains of sand—endless pages, endless books, but everything else the same day after day. I read a couple of pages and then grew bored and put it down and turned it off. The morning had been a waste—a total loss. And I had grown hungry. I stepped out the door and onto the dingy street. Acid rain ricocheted off my cheap umbrella. I stared at the sorry people walking by on the mucky street and they either looked down and avoided eye contact or stared at my face, their faces contorted in horror at my visage, like the furies of old, pain written in their skin. Some had headphones or held little devices in their hands. I went to the grocery store around the corner—opaque walls and white tile floors, doors automatically opening—inside it was very clean like a doctors or dentists office. Foods were covered in plastic wrapping. I went to the fruit isle—lined up on five opaque shelves were little plastic baggies with bright neon inks on the front and see through plastic to see the sliced fruits inside—“apples” “Oranges” “pears” “grapes.”

The plastic-covered fruit wasn’t very appealing so I walked on, finding boxes of pizza and hamburgers beside a stainless steel heating device that had the words “High power toaster oven” engraved on it. I picked out a BLT in a box and slid it in, closing the door with a satisfying click. While it heated, I looked up at a flat screen and watched some coverage of a big arrest that was being made somewhere far out west in California—fierce looking men with bushy beards were being dragged out of a house, at the bottom of the screen a headline read The Enemy Within—Terror Cabal Finally Weeded Out Of Hiding Place.

The terrorists looked sinewy and buff, and looking at them I unconsciously began to rub my belly, feeling it’s flabbiness, it’s complete lack of definition. Then a digital bell rang out, telling me my BLT was ready, and I quickly forgot my physique. I felt excited. I felt hungry. I opened the little cardboard and took the soggy sandwich over to the register and ran the barcode over the sensor, the price popping up onscreen—the woman at the register didn’t look at me, just down at her phone—I pulled the card out of the metal chain on my neck and typed in my code. I don’t know what compelled me to do what I did next. I guess it was pure contempt—why though? As my card was being charged, I surreptitiously threw some candy into my bag from the racks by the checkout line. I paid and then looked up at the lady, who was still looking down at her phone. I took my receipt. My heart pounded out of my chest. I walked out the double doors, muscles tensing in preparation for the alarms to go off, for a police officer to step out of nowhere and tackle me. But the cashier just continued to look at her phone, staring into the void. I walked out into the parking lot, stood there for a moment looking up at the sky in the acid rain and acrid silence before setting off towards home.


The alien aspect of all the detritus littering the beach—nets and pale dull multicolored shells still containing little crustacean passengers hiding deep in the recess of the conch riding along to the shoreline–and the little formations of coral that wash up and look like sculptures of trees, branches pushing out into a mushroom cloud from their great trunks; seaweed and the waste of civilization—rounded pieces of glass and spongy things shaped like human livers—and the space-alien-like shells of horseshoe crabs. Wandering up and down the beach for miles every day, listening to the record by the band GIRLS, second to last track—it isn’t right to sit around and think about the awful things / you’ve got to try to wear a smile / no matter how hard it can be to do and thinking no thoughts. Just admiring the smoothness of the sand and the aspect of the waves out in the distant and the ozone, low-lying cloud-mist that lingers in the distance; the seagulls that always seem to be flying alone and bobbing down to catch a fish in their massive beaks and the sandpipers bobbing from one foot to the other, and the tides out a little bit and music of the wind and song, fusing together with the morning sun into a cinematic experience.


In the conference room, while everyone is sorting files, someone brings up the subject of a girl who believes that flies that buzz around here are in fact reincarnations of her long deceased relatives. Everyone laughs and says, “How eccentric!” they seem to say, noses bobbing upward. But I realize that I’ve thought the exact same thing.

Two Hobos

I stumble on two polish hobos fighting in the park, on the day after thanksgiving. All the other hoboes watch silently, on the benches in McCarren—the drunk hobos swing wildly at each other, landing punches on each other with soft thunds—they grapple as if they’re dancing. The fight is much more peaceful and slow and quiet than the hyperspeed thud and male violence of the movies. They have a muted masculinity to them, the sense that it must be reawakened—the fight seems like it is actually good for them. After so many years of wasteful dispersion and paralysis sitting on stone park benches like cadavers collecting pigeons, they get up and feel the blood moving in their veins once more—fighting. Sprawling on sidewalks.

The park they fight in has a wintry glow to it. Even though it’s midafternoon and not that cold, it makes me happy to see families strolling lazily through the park the day after thanksgiving, a sad vacant day—like an 18th century Monet. Like a real metropolis, trapped in time. Back where I come from people just sit in traffic on the highway, on their way to black Friday sales, or laze their way through the day at home.

The Other Entrance

I was walking past the park in my neighborhood at dusk when I saw the pikes and green-lighted globes. A subway entrance, several blocks down the frozen sidewalk, which I had never noticed before. I found this strange; I had lived in the neighborhood for well over five years and walked to my station several blocks in the opposite direction every morning with my eyes half-closed, blinded by tiredness. I had stood in the purgatorial cold of tiled station platforms and boarded the steel trains with the other early morning commuters, all droopy-eyed and half-dead, and believed that I would always be shuttled into the city, crossing the East River like Styx. I knew both the dank, black stairwells of my station well, the torn-up street corners that they emerged onto. Had their been another one all this time? I walked down the sidewalk and crossed the street, but as I drew closer to those familiar green orbs and dark staircase, it seemed to draw further away from me in perspective, still seeming distant. It wasn’t until I came right up on it that I realized that it wasn’t further down the block, but was just very small. The wrought-iron ledge around the staircase only came up to my thighs, and I could wrap my hands around the green lights. Where usually there was the name of the station and circled letter denoting the train line, there was only a thick coat of black lacquer, impasto’d on like swirls of frosting on a cupcake. The staircase gaped below yawning into darkness, each step descending in miniature scale. Curiously, I lowered my legs down past the steps and touched the bottom, like testing out the water in a swimming pool, wobbling as I stoop up unevenly and gripped onto the small stairwell with my hands. I could feel a decent amount of space down in the tunnel, and stooped my head down. The tunnel was covered in white tile and fluorescent light fixtures buzzed on the ceiling. Horrified by the scale of this mirage, I ducked deep inside and crawled along it on my hands and knees, taking up the majority of the tunnel, like some urban Gulliver. The floor of the tunnel was dismal, sopping from the runoff of ice and snow, and my palms were soon caked in dirt and grit. In short order, the tunnel opened up into a vaulted, tiled room, where normally there would be machines for dispensing tickets and turnstiles. Here, the circular room was empty, the floor clean and untarnished by muck and detritus, and I heard and felt the whoosh of heat coming from vents near the ceiling. There were no turnstiles, but instead a wide opening onto the miniature train platform, flanked by rusted metal that looked liked the remnants of what used to be the iron bars of some kind of prison or dungeon. A red light, like an eye, centered over the amphitheater opening onto the wedge-like train platform glowed brightly. I rubbed my mucky hands on the back of my shirt and crawled forward onto the platform with little room to move. I turned my head down the miniature vanishing train platform and saw people—if you could even call them that. They weren’t quite people. They were children dressed like people waiting for the train on their tiny wooden benches, beside monstrous black garbage cans, standing up reading newspapers, wearing suits and little Stetson hats. They looked on at me, my hunched body and dirtied shirt, and colossal stature with unrestrained horror. One of the little men dropped his newspaper. Helium-inflated voices echoed out on the stagnant train platform.

-My lord, what is that!

-I’m not ready to die!

-Oh my dear God, will someone call the authorities!

Several of the men, these little Lego-people, ran toward me and began kicking at my face and shoulders. It hurt badly, but I took it like a man (retaliation just isn’t in my nature).

The Dam

The dam is creaking, breaking, spouting holes all over and we are trying our best, we are running back and forth along its length trying to cork up the length, trying to keep it from bursting on us, all with the dread knowledge that the structure will eventually give way, that the concrete is weakening and the water will come soon to drown us all.


The great grinding pistons of our relationship hissed steam and slowly churned to a halt. The massive machine lie rusting in a field, enveloped in moss and kudzu. A monument to failure.


On my lunch break, I left the office and stopped at a corner store to get some flowers for my sweetheart to bring to her office building across town. All the flowers were crammed in little feed buckets under the awning outside the bodega—flowers of every variety. Single roses, sunflowers, spring mixes, tiger lilies, lilacs. They all looked so beautiful. I considered just getting a single rose, but it reminded me too much of the end of an opera, the final ‘BRAVO!’ when fans throw them up on stage for the lead actress. But, conversely, I didn’t have enough money for a dozen roses so settled on the mid-grade option of an arrangement of lesser neon magenta, violet, and yellow flowers. I picked them up and took them inside. The plastic wrapped around them crinkled in my hand and the flowers dripped from the stems—I laid them on the counter and pulled out my money. The counter girl pulled out a plastic bag.

“What are you doing?” I asked, She didn’t answer me, and started wrapping the plastic around the stems. “Plastic? No more plastic.” I said curtly, pointing. “It’s so they won’t drip.” She said without looking up at me, continuing to wrap the stems and taping them so it looked like some kind of amputee’s stump, done up in cellophane. Now everything but the heads of the flowers were covered by a wall of plastic, slippery, glazy, without scent, moisture, or any kind of natural characteristic. I felt sad. A gentleman, the proprietor I assumed, walked up.

“Ten dollars” he said, sticking out his hand.

“Take off the plastic. Please…” I begged. The girl protested, but the man’s eyes showed empathy. “No plastic?” he repeated my request, “OK.” He shrugged, unwrapping the plastic and rolling the flowers in wax paper. I went over to the ATM and pressed buttons so I could get some money to pay him for the flowers.

I gave the counter woman my money and said thank you mechanically, and then took the flowers I bought for my sweetheart that I purchased with money that I had received from working my job, which I was temporarily on the lunch break from. I took the flowers and walked out onto the street—they seemed happy and released smells, and made me happy. The day was beautiful and breezy. I liked the feeling of the wax paper in my hand more than the feeling of the plastic in my hand and think the flowers did too (I vanquished the unpleasant truth that they were actually dead, autopsied in fact, from my mind).

“I hope they weren’t grown in bad chemicals…” I thought to myself, frowning. I walked down the bustling boulevard, carrying the flowers. I raised the bouquet to my nose, pricking up my olfactory to be hit by their sweet musky scent—I took a deep whiff. They smelled like nothing.

Great Writers (2008)

All those nights I stayed up late doing nothing but biting my fingernails and watching life pass me by. All those nights where I would try to grab out for some frame of reference to hold on to—for dates, for memories, for reflections of my meager, incidental accomplishments. All those nights I found a sick kind of comfort in flickering through the Wikipedia pages of long dead authors to see what they were doing, what kind of books they were writing when they were my age. Some where in the army, some had already been married, some had written books and had government jobs. Others will still traipsing around the world without a thought for writing–drinking, loving, working—just living life. Capote and Fitzgerald had novels, Cheever was a boy genius. Thomas Wolfe didn’t do anything until he was 29, but when he finally got around to it, it was like a freight train that had long been gathering steam. I read their first novels, their early stories, weighing their early-20s talent against mine—the unplumbed depths of my talent, only to find little in the way of competition. The Heart is a lonely Hunter—couldn’t finish more than fifty pages. Other Voices, Other Rooms—juvenile, dragging, popularized by that sexy picture of Truman Capote on the back. Cheever’s early stories—achingly upper-middle-class, the kind of person that I would like to punch in the face. This Side of Paradise—boring, horrible, lacking. Dos Passos? Cather? Djuna? Hart Crane? What was I procrastinating for? Why as I obsessing over the mile markers of the dead? My talent unharnessed, I didn’t know what to do or where to start–so instead of building my own life, I just sniped at the lives of others, pointing out their mistakes that I wouldn’t make to guide me through the murky present. Most of the people who are considered in the sexist Eurocentric canon ‘greats’ didn’t write novels until they were 25. Having just recently turned 25, I can testify that that’s when the fear starts to set in. But I never thought about the passage of time as much as when I was twenty-three, standing on the cusp of something big and horrible and hoping that I would think about it less as it went on. It was like playing an online matching game—looking at the years of others and matching them with mine. This was ridiculous because everyone goes at their own pace. Some people are late-bloomers, some are busy living life, some are preserved in Cytogenesis by a long adolescent and early-20s Christianity, like my friend Josh, emerging into the world like butterfly as he approached thirty. Henry Miller says he never read a novel until he was 25, let alone wrote one. You can still start today. The problem is one of willpower that limited amount of willpower that has to be rationed through the day with respect to your artistic pursuit—the sad truth is that your willpower can be significantly depleted by work, school, and arguments with your significant other, excessive masturbation.  Without willpower, there is no drive to do your grand idea justice—you slump out over your computer, you diddle around on Facebook for five hours. There are a million little tricks and routines to maintain and steady your willpower, none of which I seem to be able to follow—Sure, you can move out of New York City and have cheap rent and an easy job that affords you plenty of time for artistic pursuit but it’s a gamble, because if you fail there’s no excuse to fall back on. You had the time, you had the space to make something great. Conversely, there’s the problem with the city, this great core of energy, but filled with so much culture that you have to beat away other people’s stuff with a stick—there’s always a reading or a party to go to, always some kind of entertainment distracting from the blank slate of your own effort—If you’re here tonight postponing what you should be doing, distracting yourself with passive entertainment, raise your hand. What are you waiting for? Also the issue of how to survive economically and preserve energy late at night or early in the morning for your creative endeavors. Once you have gathered the willpower, there’s the problem of caffeinated over exuberance to contend with, the horror of soberly looking back over what you made the night before in a sped-up frenzy only to find that 95% of it is emotional garbage, unsalvageable.