I suppose I’m scared. I’m scared of the men standing in the alley, scared of the bills in my mailbox, scared of the internet and the deep web. I’m scared of the future and shag carpets, I’m scared of mad dogs big dogs strong dogs. I’m scared that no one will find me beautiful. I’m scared that no one will find me smart witty artistic talented – wonderful. I’m scared of 38 year old baristas, I’m scared of cars and gas and violence. I’m scared of 60mph. I’m scared of hoarding, cat litter, dead plants. I’m scared that I can’t get out because the black lodge is keeping me here. I’m scared my family thinks I’m crazy. I’m scared I smoke too much pot. I’m scared to be one of the boys. I’m scared I’ve given up my sexuality. I’m scared of how horny I am. I’m scared that I wont be able to control it. I’m scared of my mess. I’m scared I’ll never be responsible. I’m scared they wont trust me. I’m scared of an empty bed. I’m scared that my passion is false. I’m scared of large spaces high falls and deep crevasses. I’m scared of spiders snakes lions tigers bears. I’m scared of high winds and low temps. I’m scared of myself.
The ‘Seattle freeze’ is characterized by hunched up shoulders, coat lapels popped up to hide the face and eyes stuck to the cement. Strangers moving here will complain about how difficult it is to make friends in a city where people go out of their way to ignore one another.
Socialization is difficult in the winter especially. The sky is one big gray backdrop, spitting water like a broken faucet. People tend to hibernate, peeping outside of themselves only long enough to order a cup of coffee, “one twelve ounce americano, please.”
Seattleites encounter each other every day, but rarely lift their eyes from their shoes to take in the city and people around them - to notice that Seattle is full of people. And what’s more, Seattle is full of creative people.
Bear met me at Quinn’s pub on a Saturday. She asked me to meet her at Quinn’s because she didn’t feel that her identity was safe at Cafe Vita next door. Bear is a local Capitol Hill artist who recently became involved in the stickering community. And by stickering I mean images, poetry and messages delivered to the universe via packaging labels stuck to the backs of street signs, parking meters and bathroom walls. Bear is an interesting person, with a knack for magic.
She was first inspired to begin stickering in mid December of 2011, “after a relationship had ended,” Bear writes via email. She continues, “I had been reading Richard Brautigan that day and decided that he was speaking directly to me. So I wrote out some of his poems on blank white paper, as well as letters to my former lover [and] letters to friends, and made copies of them with my home printer. [I] went out with a roll of clear tape and just taped them to the backs of No Parking signs and parking meters. All around Pike/Pine and Broadway and 12th. I wasn’t expecting anyone to respond to them, and was pleasantly surprised when someone did, with a positive response no less.”
Bear taped a letter to the back of a street sign on 12th avenue. It was directed to a friend of hers that worked in the area. It was written in all lower-case text with a black marker, and a hand drawn black frame around the edge of the paper. It read:
dear soul friend,
when i see you
take up presence
in the world,
i feel happy for
comes your way.
The response Bear received was not from the friend it had been directed to. Some twist of fate conjured a response from Rabbit. A grid of six stickers held the image of a Rabbit sitting on the back of a Bear under a rainy evening sky. Rabbit wrote, “dearest Bear, raindrops aren’t all that different from stars. love, simple Rabbit.”
Rabbit posted drawings of Bear and Rabbit sitting on a hillside, staring at the sky. Rabbit uses the same shades of blue and green for all of their pieces – and the colors are used in a ratio that Rabbit describes as ‘blue blue green’.
Back at the pub, Bear is smiling ear to ear, flipping through photos of different communications between herself and Rabbit. She doesn’t know who Rabbit is, and none of her friends that know about her stickering hobby will own up to writing the magical response.
Bear wrote, “In the winters here, everyone feels so closed off, and Seattle also tends to get negative and sarcastic, which I’m not a fan of. So I was happy that there were others around like me, who walk around with their heart on their sleeve, longing for a connection to someone else like them.” With Bear it seems like she is in constant commune with the sky. She seems to be aware of energy as a force, and connection to others as a life spark.
Bear tells me that she walks for at least an hour a day. She calls it ‘street therapy’ – walking seemingly without trajectory to help her process what’s going on in her head.
On Bears’ walks, she encounters communication from Rabbit and other stickering critters wandering on the street, essentially doing the same thing. Bear also appears sometimes in stickers as a wizard. Along Pike/Pine between Broadway and 15th avenue, careful observers will note stickers from Bear, Rabbit, Bird Monkey, Nugget, Heart-Shine and Moggy, the smoking cat. Bear is friends in ‘real life’ with the entire cast of characters, save Rabbit and Moggy – whom she has never met.
One day on 12th Avenue Bear saw an envelope taped to the back of a no parking sign. Bear knew instantly that it was intended for her. She peeled it away from the sign and saw that the envelope bore the message, “Yes. Hi!! Gift.” Inside the envelope were three deflated balloons, two blue and one green. On a separate occasion Rabbit gifted Bear 92 cents, Rabbit’s weekly savings. Bear gave Rabbit a homemade bow-tie and feathers for Rabbit’s hair. Rabbit responded by drawing herself wearing the feathers behind her ear and the bow-tie around her neck.
\ Bear became consumed with finding the identity of Rabbit, speculating on Rabbit’s gender, where Rabbit works and where Rabbit spends time. She tells me that she feels a special ‘kinship’ with Rabbit. Bear speaks like this often, as if she were in tune with a dimension that only wizards can see.
Messages between Bear and Rabbit became intense quickly. But then Rabbit took a trip. “A few weeks after Rabbit and I were communicating with each other,” Bear writes “[Rabbit] wrote me a note saying they were going to LA for ten days. When [Rabbit] returned, there were about ten to twelve illustrated stickers around Pike/Pine that documented her trip there - and that it didn’t turn out well. She went to visit her lover, who apparently had another lover.” Bear shows me images of Rabbit’s stickers. A Rabbit sits on a tree branch alone watching the sunset. It Didn’t Last is scrawled in blue and green under the image. Bear explains, “Rabbit documented this by illustrating a sad Rabbit looking at two other Rabbits in the distance, in love.” The text of this illustration reads sometimes I feel like a puddle. “After these stickers, Rabbit’s communication continued, but often with things I did not understand, and with more of a removed tone that was apparent even from stickers.”
The grass in Las Vegas isn’t real grass. It’s made of plastic. Astro Turf. Melted down tires reconstructed and dyed green. Bits of ‘lawn’ are sectioned off and are labeled as dog relief stations. Suntanned women plop frail, shaking dogs onto the turf. It couldn’t be real grass because real grass requires real water. And there is no water. The brownish sludge that oozes from the tap is shipped in from different parts of the world. Transport leaves the water tinted with the miles it has traveled to get to the second rate hotel room I’m currently occupying. But a PSA comes on the television to ensure me that the drinking-water is drinkable.
I paid thirty dollars (with discount) for an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. I should have recalled that Nevada does not share any border with the Pacific Ocean before I opened my wallet and forked over the twenties. Inside the restaurant, every type of seafood you can imagine is piled to the tipping point: shrimp cocktail, oysters on the half shell, king crab legs, spicy tuna rolls, baby octopus, salmon fillets, fish n’ chips, lobster tails, popcorn shrimp, even a pink sashimi flower with a wasabi eye. The line wraps around the perimeter of the restaurant like a headless snake, drooling masses extend fat fingers to ladle melted butter over the whole ordeal.
I find my way to the back of the line. Under the glow of heated lamps, I begin to pile large portions onto my plate. A chunk of roast beef, perfectly pink in the center is nestled next to steamed crawdads and sauteed mussels. I scoop and ladle and pinch with tongs the unending parade of food before me, and stop only when the tower begins to topple. Back to the table. With careful aim, I select first the leg of a snow crab. With the intuition of a Pacific Northwestern native, I place both steady hands around the leg and make to snap the shell in half. The leg crumples. Folds as if the bending part were a joint. Soggy crab. Into the bucket in the middle of the table – a graveyard for inedible bits and pieces.
There is nothing less appealing than bad seafood. I look down and see a raw oyster, bluish-gray in nature, smearing across the plate like a comet sloppily dragging through the sky. I am sitting in front of a mountain of food - picking through it with the diligence of the crust punk kids who dumpster dive outside of my house. But I, unlike the Crusties, paid thirty dollars (with discount) for the experience. I push the plate away and watch as an older woman, well seasoned in the desert sun, clears it from the table. She hands back the utensils so I can load up another plate.
Casinos get old quick in Las Vegas. The mixture of 24 hour eating and 24 hour gambling and 24 hour drinking and smoking is absorbed into the carpets and walls and gives an otherwise immaculate building a stench of consumption. Like termites, visitors tear the casinos down from the inside out, a single bit at a time, until everyone jumps ship. They get so grimy. Then they tear the whole building down and erect a new one. I roll out of the restaurant and back onto the casino floor. The group I’m with is headed in several directions and I follow passively. The ground is soft as I pad along carpeted hallways and corridors. I realize that I haven’t been outside all day. I realize that I haven’t walked on a hard surface. I pause to watch a woman dancing very slowly on top of a bank of slot machines. I scan the crowd and see that no one is looking up at her. The crowd’s eyes are glued to the glowing screens before them and the dancing woman’s eyes are far, far away. She seems to me to be a shipwreck, abandoned on a tiny island in an ocean of sharks.
If you sit at a slot machine for long enough, a cocktail waitress with a perky body but a tired personality will appear and offer you a drink. Beer, wine, and watered-down mixed drinks for the cost of a nickle bet and a dollar tip. But the going price of bottled water stands at five dollars. No exceptions. I pull the arm of the machine and watch the symbols flicker past. I can’t seem to decipher between what is a winning bell and what is not – but somehow I’ve managed to win forty dollars and then lose it in three spins. The woman posted at the machine beside me is rubbing her hand on the screen – starting at the top left corner and ending at the bottom right. She pulls the arm and repeats. A cigarette is held in her free hand, it’s nearly burnt out. I wait for the ashes to catch in a breeze and be carried away. But the air is stale. For thirteen dollars I buy a drink that comes in a yard-long plastic tube. For a dollar more, I get an additional shot of tequila. Like a sucker-fish I walk down the corridors of the casino, trying to get the last bits of blended margarita from the base of the cup. Entire families pass me on moving sidewalks with their mouths securely fastened to their straws, sucking from plastic vases. Virgin Pina Coladas for the young ones.
Bloated from my deep-fried, sugar-coated, high-fructose soaked experience, I feel numb to the lights that flash all around me. Bells and whistles fill the air space, muddled in with all the smoke. You’d think that everyone I pass is winning a major jackpot by the sirens screaming in my ears. But sirens simply ring all the time. Hunter S. Thompson came to Las Vegas to follow the American dream. I suppose I came instead just to see it. Dried out and worn out from the hours that bleed into each other, I find a patch of real grass labeled ‘dog relief station’, glance for evidence of dog shit, and then sit down. All I want is a glass of water and a crisp apple. All I want is something fresh and reasonably portioned. But the American dream is located in the middle of a desert.
It had been a long time since time wasn’t measured by the daily card games in the recreation hall and the alternating flavorless nutritionally satisfying slop offered in the dining room. It had been a long time since it was deemed safe enough for her to drive a car. It had been a long time since she was able to sleep on her own schedule, allowing herself to lay in bed and wake up slowly, sipping coffee while reading the daily newspaper, watching the sun creep up the edge of her bed. It had been a long time since she could read at all without the strongest prescription of lenses in her glasses. It had been a long time.
Ten years ago she found him in the kitchen, up late at night as he would, curled up the glowing light of the refrigerator. But at his age it was to be expected.
She married young, young enough so that her womanly curves were just beginning to show from under her wedding dress, small contours on the landscape of the silk tapestry, white as snow. He was a strapping GI, 22 years old, he had already seen what men in a foxhole were capable of. He was a man who wasn’t ready to settle down but was under order of the social scheme. He knew that it was time to get back to normal.
He carried her over the threshold of their rambler style home, tucked away in a private neighborhood outside of a moderate sized city. The furnishings were modest, but not in poor repair; and for each holiday he would surprise her with a new appliance that made her duties as a faithful housewife easier.
In return she gave him two children: Tom born July 27, 1952, and Aida born December 15, 1955. Both were of good health and could be found in generally good spirits on any given occasion. Once a week She and he engaged in intercourse in a standard fashion; his touch was aggressive but not entirely without consideration (he kept his nails clean and short) and his hands were those of a war survivor, calloused and frantically groping in the dark. His thrusting was desperate, as if his own climax were the pleasure he could not wait for, and he certainly could not wait for her pleasure center to activate. He would explode inside of her while she clung to the pleasure that she barely was allowed to experience and watch him collapse and retreat back into his shell. A towel would conveniently appear at her side and she would begin the process of cleaning him out and off of her person. Upon completion they pushed their separate twin size beds to their respective ends of the bedroom and he turned out the lights. She would shower and scour her body to remove any trace that he had been there at all. The only evidence of their coitus could be found in the existence of Tom and Aida.
This is how Jules spent her adult life. The kids grew up and at 73 years old she found her husband curled up in the glowing light of the refrigerator. But all of this was to be expected.
She let the cards in her hands flip quickly, shuffling through the pain of her arthritis and experiencing the whir of the chance of the draw. She laid out the seven columns for her game of Solitare, focusing hard at the cards that lay facing up – making order of the chaos she created for herself to govern. The community that Tom and Aida had placed her in was comfortable yet modest, and the recreation room served not only as a card hall but also as a voting booth during the election – a perk that had made a dutiful voter out of a once politically apathetic woman. Her hand was poised above the cards splayed on out the table when a voice well seasoned with years of tobacco interrupted her commune with the deck.
“You’ve got an ace in column three, and if you can’t see that Jules, it’s time to get those eyes checked again.” Butch was a man with little sense of order, and little respect for the order that respectable folk employed.
She reached for the card, but his hand was covering the ace before she could snatch it up.
“Thanks for your input, but I can see the ace as well as I can see the age spots freckling your arm, please move your hand and let me finish this game before lunch – wouldn’t want to be late for the creamed corn and diced peas.”
“It’s baby food,” he blurted as he lifted his hand from the table, “but they can’t expect us to be held responsible for chewing or shitting or fucking without some sort of modification. We’re old folks now, large babies folding back into ourselves.”
Jules found herself flushed by his use of the word fuck. It had been a long time since she had heard anyone use such profanity. She attempted to suck the shock she felt back into her chest cavity.
“Just nothing but a bunch of repulsive babies” he continued. “Un-loveable, un-reasonable and un-fuckable. My kids deny my sexuality, they think they invented the blow job! Can’t they realize that Deep Throat came around in the 60s?”
Jules couldn’t breathe. She felt like some massive weight had fallen hard on her chest and was pinning her to the chair. She willed a massive heavy hand up onto a column of cards and drew them toward herself. “I’m late-” she stammered as she sent the cards spinning to the powder blue plush carpet. She sat frozen in her chair as Butch slowly ducked down to retrieve the fallen cards,
“53 card pick up isn’t so easy when you have severe arthritis and metal joints to deal with.” He paused just as his face passed by her knees. She could feel his breath swirl into the gap between her slightly parted legs. His hand rested on her thigh as he helped himself to stand. “Still firm,” he gave her thigh the slightest of squeezes. “Pilates?” Jules stiffened and held her breath hoping for the ordeal to pass without any further embarrassment. The receptors of her reflexes began to fire and she abruptly stood. Ignoring the ace on the table, she dismissed herself without saying a word. Butch stood in a half crouch beside the table, his weight supported by the space she once occupied.
That night, before the lights switched off on the automatic timers, Jules rolled the word fuck around in her mouth. It was a word she rarely had the occasion for, her life had been well mannered and well organized. Not the sort of life that could find use for the word fuck. At first the word felt stiff, with the sort of unease that one pronounces a foreign last name like Dostoyevsky. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she repeated over and over again, no louder than a prayer. The use of such a word felt uncomfortable and without any sort of place. Her husband would never have entertained such language in her presence, nor would he have referenced a dirty picture.
In fact, every part of Jules’ life had been sterile and without the smut that she faced earlier in the afternoon, Butch had come into her temple and messied it all up, strewn the baskets of freshly pressed laundry and stomped on the sandwiches with the crusts cut off. The jelly oozing from the compacted Wonder Bread had left a long red stain across the shag. His hand on her thigh had left a burning palm print on her freshly starched linen pants. Dry mouth compelled her to reach to the night stand for a glass of water, the back of her hand grazed the glass and knocked it to the floor. “FUCK!” she exclaimed as the broken shards scattered over the tile.
Jules ate alone. She preferred to keep to herself in community living. It appeared that anyone to get close to would soon be rolled out in a body bag, but she kept such thoughts to herself. She was far too polite and well mannered to even consider such a thing. She liked the trays that meals were served on. They kept each food group separated from one another so that individual flavors could be tasted on their own. Of course each flavor of each food distributed was as bland as the next, but Jules would never admit such a thing to the chef.
A tray came crashing down on the table. The pureed carrots and poached chicken hopped about the plate, and she saw the dividers had little ability to contain foods when presented with high impact falls. Butch came crashing down after the plate, falling stiffly into the chair beside Jules, and he let out a wild groan before he started in. “Women like you shouldn’t sit alone. I can see it in your eyes you are begging for someone like me to pop in on you and poke at your buttons.” He began to shovel spoonfuls of green spinach puree into his mouth, sputtering as he spoke. “I was thinking last night about your problem…” Jules began to push her chair back to retreat from the table, but the spray of his open mouth seemed a dangerous situation for her white blouse, and so she figured she’d better stay put.
“What problem are you talking about?”
“You’re a damn lousy card shark and can’t see an ace when it’s right in front of your nose! On top of that you won’t look me in the eye and it seems like you’ve got a real bug up your ass, something stuck up in there real tight, like a lady who has never ever gotten hers.”
Jules felt a fire in her belly like she never had before, feelings so intense that she had a hard time placing it as hatred right away. She fired back.
“Butch, you asshole! You come into my space and point out my hand to play when I’m busy keeping to myself. You think that bad breath of yours is something I want warming up my shoulder? You seem to have no respect for me with your foul mouth and your foul mind. What kind of man talks to decent folk like that?”
Butch swallowed down the mashed up carrots and wiped the dribble from the corners of his mouth with his napkin, which was tucked into the collar of his shirt. “Well, I guess an honest man,” he replied very slowly as he pushed the entire meal away from himself and began to stand.
“Well, thanks for your company, you old bitch.” He winked grotesquely. Jules’ mouth wound itself into a tight smile, she couldn’t handle the man that was thrown before her, and what was worse – he was honest.
“You know Butch,” she began carefully, “you’re right… I haven’t ever gotten mine.” She pushed her food away from herself and rose quickly, gently breezing by him as he levitated somewhere between the chair and the rec room.
The only lights that buzz alight in the late night (by late night Jules means 9:45) are those in the bathrooms. The purpose of the glowing light under the door is so that those who are still mobile can find their way to the toilet once the rest of the lights have timed out. Jules sat in bed and watched the light inhabit the space that she was not occupying. She often wonders if refrigerator lights stay on even when the door is closed, perhaps leading her husband like a mosquito to the electrified power source that would inevitably zap his life out. Or maybe it was all those god damned BLTs he would fry up at three in the morning. Maybe it was because his cholesterol was too high and he drank too much and he ate so much fucking bacon. Maybe he, that husband who she found curled up in the light of the refrigerator, couldn’t care less beyond what pleased him. Maybe he didn’t realize that his growing waist band made him less jolly and more painful a lover to her. Even if he did realize, he would not have been likely to care.
Her children were much the same. Tom and Aida forgot to call, forgot to visit, and placed her in this home out of convenience. They thought it would be easier for them, no driving Jules to appointments or to the salon – just a one stop sort of community, a sort of mega mall for easy living. But they didn’t much care for what Jules had wanted. It could have been because Jules didn’t much like to bother others, her favorite sorts of Christmas presents were ones that made the preparation of a meatloaf easier. But tonight as Jules stared down the line of light peeking from below the bathroom door, she reached her right hand up under the lace of her dress shirt and felt her own body.
She was wrinkled from head to toe, and her breast felt flat, drained of all life-giving substance. It sort of hung from her body like an empty sack, she could not comprehend how what was once so fertile had become so worn out. Even so, her own touch was soft and gentle – aware that it was caressing its own folds, its own indentations. And with such a stroke Jules found pleasure.
Lights flickered on at 6am all days but Sunday. Jules was cocooned up in a quilt she had made years ago, before her arthritis had become too severe for detailed patchwork. She pulled the blanket up high, so that the artificial sunrise was blocked from her view and drifted back to sleep.
It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that she heard a knock at the door. The entire community would begin to gossip when individuals didn’t get themselves out of bed – it could mean a sickness, injury or just as commonly - death. An orderly peeked her head around the open door, “Jules?” The woman’s voice was soft, and she sort of cooed into Jules’ bedroom with empathy built into her tone.
“I’ll take an espresso and a croissant”
“Pardon?” her rising inflection made Jules cringe, this woman was a covert agent, here to coax her from her safe, warm bed.
“None of that Starbucks shit, either. It’s got to be fresh, real fresh. From a French bakery if you know one nearby, I’m so sick of egg beaters and powdered milk. A New York Times would be great too, I’ll just wait here until it’s ready, if you don’t mind.”
The pause was long before the orderly replied, her voice searching for authority, “Jules, are you alright? Have you been hurt? Can you walk? Do you need help getting out of bed?”
“Fuck you, bring me my breakfast” she paused, “I’ve been up and out of bed every morning since 1953. I’ve gotten up, and waited hand and foot on the people in my life without a single thank you. If I say I’m staying in bed and if I say I want a croissant, then god dammit, bring me that pastry and leave me to myself. I’m sick of your baby food”.
When Jules finally coaxed herself from under the covers that evening and into the dining hall, the other tenants eyed her suspiciously and avoided any direct conversation. She chose a table closest to the window overlooking the man made duck pond outside and poked at her slop as she stared out the window. She heard Butch coming from his labored breathing and uneven gate,
“you know”, she started, “this world used to seem a whole lot smaller.” He found a chair and turned it to face the window and took a seat. “It was swallowed up in the light that the refrigerator cast out onto the linoleum floor in the early hours of the morning.” A duck thrust his head under the surface of the pond and bobbed back up, shaking off the excess water, “I’ve never known what it is to feel pleasure for it’s own sake. The kind of pleasure that comes from the inside of myself, I always thought it came from doing things for others.” She dropped her fork onto the tray and her hands fell limply at her sides, “I’m just learning now the power of profanity. It’s fucking great.”
Her eyes didn’t leave the surface of the lake, even as Butch reached over and placed a wrinkled hand on her knee, his whole being reeked like stale tobacco and she could hear the rattle of the phlegm trapped in his lungs. She thought that he may end up with emphysema soon, with tubes jammed up into his nostrils. He would end up plugged into a machine, curled up under the lights that stay on 24 hours a day. Lights backed up by generators. Lights that never go out. But for now he was okay, Butch was an honest man. Her hand covered his. She finally saw the ace on the table. Her hand speckled with years of wear reached to claim it.
She turned to face him and contorted her face into a pout, “what’s you and I get out of here, find some private space? I’ve got some left over pastry in my room and a crossword that won’t solve itself.” This time she didn’t blush. Jules felt the rush of blood to the bits she had long ago written off. Butch swallowed down the tablets for men of his age, as was to be expected.
I remember I had this biology teacher, Mr. Smith. He was the school’s wrestling coach and was into Sublime. While we dissected frogs he played “Badfish” - I always thought he was a stoner. I was probably right. Mr. Smith was really ripped. He had muscles like I had never seen before and worked out in the school’s gym 5 times a week. One day he was bench pressing some absurd amount of weight when his pectoral muscle ripped away from whatever was holding it down onto his chest. It looked like a fish was flopping around under his skin. It looked like his heart had broken free from his ribcage and was making to escape the whole of his body. I was sure I was going to see his heart leap from his chest and drag itself across the floor and out the door leaving behind a slug trail of blood. He was screaming and everyone in the workout room was crowded around him trying to help. I couldn’t stop staring at the cow tongue flopping around on his chest. I couldn’t stop screaming.
I used to hang out around this park. It was built around a reservoir. I was standing at the edge of a pond in this park staring down at the coy when I realized that I was a fish too. And that I was stuck in a little concrete pond at the edge of an ocean. The coy were swimming in circles, and I was swimming in circles too. I wanted to submerge myself in the fish pond and spend some time. I wanted to blow the air out and flatten my lungs. I wanted to sprout gills and breathe another way.
I watch a lot of science television. I’m watching this show about how the universe works. Its called “How the Universe Works”. It explains how the galaxy is being held together by dark matter. The scientists don’t understand what it is or how it works but they know something is out there beyond what they can perceive. They seem scared. I want to tell them it isn’t evil even though it’s dark. I hate when they say that we are made out of stardust. Stardust is the confetti made from a corpse of an orb that wanted to be looked at. Stardust is that sibling who was always performing. But dark matter is the quiet one. Dark matter is invisible. It’s the component that keeps us from drifting away. It’s heavier than gravity, and it’s essential. I want to extinguish all the stars by licking my fingers and then pinching them out, one by one. I want stars to have the same advantage as dark matter. I want to see what we’re really made out of.
It’s 1am. The snow is thick on the ground and the news is reporting that it will only be around for another day or so. I should be outside doing what people my age do – drinking beer and sledding down Denny hill - but I’m inside and my computer is sitting squarely on my lap. My interaction with the internet is more impulse than anything else. Double click on Firefox, then a single click on the bookmark tab labeled ‘Facebook’. I don’t know how I accumulated 570 friends since I barely speak to more than 5 people on any given day, but there was a time when I was younger and more more social than I am now.
Two fingers on the mouse pad allows me to scroll down the News Feed and gives me a glimpse into the musings of the 500 or so people that I’ve met at some point in my life but who I, for the most part, don’t know anymore. I am able to peek in on their lives and it fulfills that all too human desire to pass judgment.
I worked at a pension administrative office last year. I was hired at a time when the company expanded by half, so I was to work on the second shift. The company was cheap, they decided against leasing out another floor of the building – the new employees worked 4pm to 12am. We had no internet access, no solitaire and a fairly low production standard.
The night shift in any job will draw strange characters, the people on the edge of society. In high school I worked at a small video store. It was in a strip mall that was for the most part abandoned. I worked the closing shift one particularly hot summer, and in the final hours of the evening strange men would often wander in and head straight to the back room. A convex mirror let me peek in and make sure that they didn’t attempt to use the product at the store. I had the drive thru coffee stand across the parking lot on speed dial just in case a customer refused to leave the back room.
I don’t really understand why someone would visit a video store to rent pornos when the internet is directly at their finger tips. It’s really amazing the cocoon that some people spin around themselves thanks to the convenience of the internet and delivery pizza.
I sat for 37.5 hours per week (not including 30 minutes each night for ‘lunch’) in a tiny cubicle processing the retirements of Teamsters, reading and doodling. I’d often order Domino’s pizza online via my smart phone and then watch the pizza tracker blink slowly from “pizza is in the oven” to “pizza is on its way”.
The Teamsters are the truck drivers and warehouse men of America. They were also responsible for the rise of the Mob, and they tend to be salty. Even saltier when they’re drunk and receiving phone calls from bored office monkeys during dinner time. I’d say something like, “I see you’ve returned the retirement application we sent you with the word ‘YES’ written across the front and no signature. Unfortunately…”
Some nights people would scream for no reason, other nights I’d be invited on romantic getaways to a trailer parks in Vegas.
My cubicle was directly across from the desk of a woman named Lola. She was a bi-polar-ex-slut-born-again-Christian-hoarder with a habit of skipping her meds and buying me trousers at Value Village. The kind that Annie Hall wore, because she knew that I liked them. Lola was my best friend at the office. She once gave me a fur coat.
Sharing a partition with me was Todd. Todd was a short and stocky bachelor from Coney Island with a serious addiction to Coca Cola. Physically, he seemed like a man stuffed in sausage casing that couldn’t abide his neck. It may have been the style of knot he wore on his tie. He took a lot of trips by himself. He once traveled to China for the weekend. He got to Beijing, stayed around long enough to take some pictures, and then got back on the plane and came home Monday morning. Needless to say he was tired that evening at work.
Todd comes up on my news feed, he’s shared a link. “Want to browse the professional photos taken from our wedding? Go to photos.littlechapel.com and check them out”.
I instantly click the link. YES. I want to browse your photos. As far as I was concerned Todd didn’t speak to women outside of World of Warcraft discussion forums. So I begin to pull the thread. I click his name to view his profile and I scroll down. I want to get to the bottom of this romance business.
I go back as far as Thanksgiving and find the first related post: “Welcome to America Ampara! — at San Francisco International Airport.” The day before Ampara arrived, Todd was in the Philippines. I know this because he posted his exact location on his wall. The photo posted just hours after the couple arrived in the States is of a young Asian woman eating her “first meal. Spicy Kung Pao Chicken”. Todd always loved Chinese takeout.
At the office we would often order from the Chinese restaurant near my house, Chungee’s. When Todd’s doctor warned him about diabetes, I started bringing in home made stir-fry for us to share and lectured him on soda intake. Completely aware of the hypocrisy now, I should tell you that I was a smoker.
I click on the link to see Ampara’s profile. All the content is blocked from stalkers like me, except for the main photo. It’s her and Todd holding hands. Using cheap editing software, she has inserted the text: “Ampara <3 Todd”.
I can’t help but to think that this Ampara is a mail order bride. You hear about it all the time on Dateline MSNBC and on FOX News and in the papers - False marriages intended to give one party citizenship and the other party some mirage of love.
Lola loved Prince. She has a collection of memorabilia – mostly posters and t-shirts that she kept in a storage unit. On nights when neither of us felt like working, we would swivel our chairs around to face one another and talk. Mostly Lola would give me advice on how to get laid and how to dress provocatively -advice that I really didn’t solicit and had little use for. In her 20’s she was a real babe. She told me once she slept with one of the opening acts for Prince in an attempt to get on the tour bus. He was a stand-up comedian and she was left behind when the show left Seattle.
My friends often ask me to tell these stories. Lola and Todd seem like imagined characters. They say, “tell the one when Lola gave you a box set of Cathy comics because she ‘knew you were into graphic novels’”. I’ll laugh and oblige. Sometimes I’ll go so far to retrieve the stuffed doll that she gave me for Christmas – it bears a striking resemblance to me. I didn’t feel strange about it until someone said that she was dressing me like a doll.
Some nights Lola wouldn’t stop talking. It was as if she couldn’t. I’d have my nose buried in a book but keep my chair half swiveled to face her so it seemed like I was paying attention. She kept the bracelet the hospital made her wear when she was committed in her purse.
One night in the video store a homeless man wandered in. It was a week night, and very slow. I suddenly realized that this job was probably as dangerous as working at a convenience store. I was all alone. The man stood at the counter and stared at me. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t move. He just stared. I think I asked him if he need help finding a specific film – silence. I felt like I was being strangled I was so scared. I picked up the phone and called the coffee shop. They came and led him away.
Todd’s wife looks young. The website he listed on his wall takes me to what I would consider very tacky photos. Black and white prints of the couple emerging from a limo, exchanging vows, kissing. They’re happy. I’m gawking on Facebook over a guy I considered to be a nerd finding happiness. The internet has allowed me to look at other people’s lives purely for amusement. The revelation is unsettling.
The man in the video store went to my high school. He was mentally unstable but was coming into the store to ask to use the phone. But his appearance, and my reaction to it, made him freeze.
The girls from my years in Catholic school are pregnant. Well, most of them. We fell out of touch when I went to college in Seattle and they stayed put. I wonder how often they look at my Facebook wall – read that I’m not married and am liberal – and scoff. The way that I scoff at Todd’s wedding or at Lola’s escapades or at the homeless man asking only to use a phone.
When I quit the pension processing job to become a student again, the whole office of weirdos threw me a party. Lola made a scavenger hunt that distracted me from cleaning out my desk for a few hours, and Todd made sure that my favorite Thai restaurant delivered my favorite curry by dinner time. I try to remember that when the hours get late and the Facebooking gets out of hand. Yes, these people are strange, but they are not living their lives ironically. Especially not for my benefit.
I hate it when people find out that I’m into reality TV and judge me for it. To the pretentious guy scoffing in the corner rolling his eyes – get over it. Denying the guilty pleasure of watching ‘The Situation’ knock himself out by running headfirst into a wall is denying your humanity. I see self important dudes like this all over Seattle – sipping tiny machiattos and discussing Bukowski and the school of Diet Coke Minimalism. They hang around the hip cafes and slurp up gallons of black coffee while reading The Brothers Karamazov and trying to appear cool - I want to grab them by their neck beards and shake them and scream “you love Snooki and so do I, admit it!”
Actually most of America loves Snooki, or at least loves to hate her. She is a cartoon of a human being, a slightly distorted version of a girl that we all knew in college. She’s an alcoholic and makes questionable and possibly dangerous life choices. But deep down, somewhere under all the bronzer there is a sweet girl who just wants to be a vet tech - or so she says. Snooki is quick to label other women in the house as whores, and maintains that she never “smooshed” in the smoosh room. Snooki is trying to remain a fairly wholesome character in a show where the cast smooshes on camera. It seems odd that she would go so far out of her way to announce that in such a morally depraved place as this, her Jersey Shore cherry stayed in tact.
Its this confused role that Snooki plays that makes her so interesting, and is why so many people watch the show. Everything about Snooki is exaggerated, including her sexuality and her morality. She grapples with issues that you and I struggle with but they are blown out of proportion, distorted. I think she is relateable on some level - which is why Jersey Shore is the most watched reality television show of all time. A friend described Snooki as what she sees when she stands in a funhouse mirror, and is fascinated by the elongated head.
This summer I went to the MOMA PS1 in Queens and was introduced to Ryan Trecartin’s work. Ryan is a twenty-something artist who makes low resolution videos. They seem to be home produced and made in a suburban basement. The exhibit was arranged so each room you entered was a stage of some sort. The chairs in one room were refurbished wheelbarrows, for example. On the screen is a projection of teenage girls wearing clownish makeup, but its smeared. They’re wearing doll dresses but the way they move is rigid and jerky – they remind me of the girl in the exorcist. A set of headphones lay in one of the wheelbarrows. I put them on and take a seat.
The girls on the screen are talking too fast for me to follow. The video is sped up so they speak like chipmunks and the camera jumps from one girl to the next quickly. Its disorienting. Before long I am totally sucked into this madness. The conversation jumps around so much that I rarely follow any sort of plot, and I’m not even sure that there is a plot at all. Watching high speed 13 year old girls gossip about boys, sex and drama - all the while speaking about it in a very adult fashion, is alarming and fascinating.
The camera shots of the girls are mixed in with very brief segments of things being destroyed. In one video a car is ripped apart by the creatures on the screen. They are painted head to toe in split pea colored body paint and are swarming the tiny car. They are literally consuming the area that they inhabit by tearing it to pieces. I think that Ryan captures our generation in the most accurate and least flattering manner that I have ever seen. He shows us what we are: vapid, scattered, mal-intentioned and selfish. The focus is so close that we can see these 13 year olds have the wrinkles of well seasoned adults. He shows us as animals and does not water down the experience. In this world Snooki’s character would have actually smooshed in the smoosh room. The experience is physically disorienting, and by the end I felt like I had been spun around in an office chair.
I went to the museum on a night where the outside of the building is converted into a venue for up and coming, ultra hip bands. The place was swarming with neck beards and I heard pockets of dudes discussing the DogFish Head IPA that they were home brewing - “needs more hops” I chime in.
I can’ help but wonder what these inane conversations really mean, and how they contribute to who we are as people. Is conversation, when reduced, no more than a discussion of what we enjoy or what we do not enjoy consuming? If Snooki likes to dance to house music and I like to dance to nu disco, are we not both dancing? Does it matter so much that we consume different music if we are both, at base level, consuming? Is my gruyere and onion jam grilled cheese so different from a kraft on white bread grilled cheese? These lines of separation are merely degrees.
I am a spray tan, a boob job and a bump it away from being a very similar, but toned down version of Snooki. But because she is a “guidette” - and an exaggerated guidette for that matter - we appear to be different. She’s into meat heads, while I’m into tall, skinny, kind of wobbly guys. It turns out that Ryan’s social commentary was beat to the punch by reality television. VH1 and MTV provides entertainment that parodies society as much as Ryan Trecartin’s installation. The only problem is that Jersey Shore and the like are highly digestible. I’m a little afraid that these shows may lower our standards and create a generation that only consumes. I struggle with this issue myself and actively try to create an output into society by writing or creating art of some sort.
Its like a black hole, they suck up all of the energy around them at massive speeds - I feel that way when I’m eating lunch while watching tv/texting/checking my email/commenting/and reading all the same time. But even black holes have a moment when they burp – when they spew the energy that they’ve gorged themselves on back out into the universe – a quasar. For my sake, and for society’s sake, I hope we burp.