Thursday, March 31, 2016

Big Successes

“The small wins will soon become big successes.” She read it out loud while they waited for the check to come.

“Seriously, who talks like that?” His glasses were slipping down his nose again.

She shrugged, he shook his head.

“Fortune cookies,” he said. “What do they know, anyway?”

“Not much, I suppose.”

Where had the check gone? With the waitress, of course. The real question, then, was where had the waitress gone?

He pushed his glasses back up his nose, she stared at the slip of paper in her hands. As if a cookie could tell fortunes. As if anyone could tell fortunes.

Still, it had been a good meal. That counted as a small win, right?

“Who's even talking in this scenario?” he asked. “Is it supposed to be the cookie?”

“Probably the person who wrote it.”

“If it's the cookie, wouldn't the fortune be more like, 'Hey there, don't eat me!'?”

“You're assuming the cookie is sentient.”

“Wait, you think someone wrote this?”

“Someone came up with the idea. Someone else wrote it. Actually, a machine, I'd guess.”

“But not a sentient machine?”

“Probably just one that spits out whatever the input is.”

That made sense, in a trivial sort of way. It was less satisfying than the food but more satisfying than the service. Where had she gone?

He glanced over his left shoulder. Nope, not there. Strange, the entire place had grown quiet. In fact, they were the only ones in the restaurant. There wasn't even any noise coming from the kitchen. Was there even a kitchen?

“You notice anything unusual?” he asked.

She looked around. “I don't see anything.”


“I guess we don't have to pay.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Let Inertia Do the Rest

It's been a long month, full of heat, baseball, and beer. We've gotten dusty on the inside and are ready to go home, feel the salt air.

This place has been better than we'd expected. Live somewhere for a while and stereotypes dissolve. What's easy to say about a location and its people from far away is more difficult to maintain when you get closer.

Go most anywhere and you'll find folks that disprove theories about the type of folks you'll find there. You'll find plenty of the other kind, of course; that's how the stereotypes evolve in the first place. But if you dig a little, you'll end up where you belong and be able to focus on the good rather than the bad.

Like many things in life, seeking the good requires effort. It's easier to cling to preconceptions and remain bigoted. But it's more rewarding to find real people that transform the place from a two-dimensional movie set into a living, breathing three-dimensional space.

Still, there are aspects that make us appreciate home: bicycles on sidewalks, freeways that go in circles. The occasional racist? Sure, but we have those as well. They aren't hard to find.

Seeing the world from a different vantage point, if only for a brief time, helps give perspective. This is good because without multiple perspectives, it's easy to believe that ours is the only view, the only way.

That illusion is no longer possible to maintain after we've seen how untrue it is. The hope is that we'll remember this lesson after we've gone and returned to our normal lives, slipped into more familiar routines and patterns of thinking.

Don't be lazy. That's harder than it sounds, but it can be done. Start moving in the right direction, let inertia do the rest.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Inevitably Awkward

Some say it's bad to meet your heroes, that they let you down, but I'm not sure. Isn't it better to see them for who they are, living and breathing before us, than to keep them elevated in some fantastic godhood status they don't deserve or even want?

That doesn't keep us from being overwhelmed by the encounter, of course, though some folks don't seem to have that problem. Some folks are happy to talk about themselves at great length while that poor soul sits there and listens, smiling or grimacing.

Me? I usually end up saying something stupid, like, “Thank you for the words” or “Your book changed my life.” I always forget to add, “I swear I'm not psychotic, I just don't know what else to say.” I like to think that part is implied, but maybe not.

I rarely get starstruck, and when I do, it's with people that aren't necessarily all that well known outside of certain small circles. I have no clue who is big in the movies or on TV, but give me a niche writer and I'm on them like that psychotic person I swear I'm not.

(It's implied.)

Is it bad to meet your heroes? Maybe for some people it is. Maybe it's hard to see our heroes in their natural state, although even then, they're usually in performance mode. Unless you happen to catch them at dinner or something, in which case do you really want to invade their privacy? Then again, nowadays the notion of privacy is becoming antiquated, though that's a whole other terrifying rant for some other terrifying day.

When we meet our heroes, our gods, the encounters are inevitably awkward. But I'm okay with that because life is awkward. I still want to live it.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Listening to You

Have you ever been bored? I mean, really bored? Like, to the point where you feel the need to write paragraphs about how bored you are?

A funny thing happens. The recounting of your boredom becomes boring and your mind wanders to other things that are necessarily not boring. That is to say, they are interesting.

This is different from the previous two paragraphs, which were entirely boring. And yet to get from here to there requires a certain leap. Or if not a leap, at least a walk across a metaphorical bridge.

“What the hell are you talking about?” a faceless voice demands.

It's a good question. What am I talking about? Who is my audience? Without being able to answer those, I am lost, wandering along that bridge (which we mentioned in the previous paragraphs) with little hope for—

“Dude, this is terrible!”

Well, yes, there's that. Nitpicking aside—

“It's not nitpicking. Give me one redeeming feature.”

Where are you? I can't even see you. I'm trying to make a point here, and you keep interrupting me.

“Because you're boring.”

Right, but that was my point. So we have to walk across the—

“So help me, if you start talking about bridges again, I'll—”

You'll do what? Taunt me a second time? Without corporeal form you don't have much beyond words, which can never hurt me.

There, that seems to have shut him up. Now where was I?

“At the boring part, same as always.”

Ah yes, thank you. So we walk across the bridge and, uh, stuff happens.


You know, stuff.

“That seems rather vague.”

It is, but intentionally so.

“You mean, not a mistake.”


“You know what was a mistake?”


“Listening to you.”

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Not the Curveball

Branson peered in at his catcher from atop the mound. Fans were screaming, but he tuned that out as he had so many times before and focused on the task at hand, which was getting the batter out and winning the game.

Problem is, that batter was Brock Sanders, who owned Branson. Both men knew it, but neither believed that the past guarantees the future. All we have are probabilities, and Branson wanted to ensure the maximum chance of success, which is why he shook off his catcher when he flashed two fingers.

“Not the curveball,” muttered Branson, kicking the dirt. “He's looking for that shit.”

The count was 1-and-2. There was a man on second and two out, Branson's team led, 6-5. A single tied the game, a homer won it. Sanders was more than capable of delivering either of those.

The strapping right-handed batter took two practice swings and glared back at Branson. Both men had prepared all game, all season, all their lives for this moment. Now it was at hand.

Branson peered in at his catcher again. Two fingers again. “Fuck that!” he screamed into his glove.

Sanders held up his hand to call time. Branson's catcher, a journeyman named Caldwell, trotted out to the mound and slapped his right hand onto Branson's left shoulder.

“Listen,” he said, “this guy hammers your fastball. We gotta go with the deuce here. You can get him with that.”

Branson stared at the ground, then at Caldwell. “No, he'll be expecting it. Number one all the way.”

“You believe in the pitch?”

“I do, I really do.”

“Okay, we'll go upstairs. Bring it inside, jam him.”

Branson nodded. Caldwell trotted back behind the plate. Branson looked in, came set, and fired.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Other Direction

Going the other direction is easier. But then, climbing up a tree is never the problem, coming back down is. Just like heading into a cave isn't as hard as heading out.

This is hardly a comforting thought as I'm going the other other direction, that is, the direction that isn't the other direction in our imagined scenario. My chances of getting stuck are very high. I myself am very high—in the altitudinal sense, not in the drug-induced sense, although the latter sounds nice right about now.

“We're going to get you down,” calls a disembodied voice over some unseen loudspeaker.

“Cool,” I call back, not that anyone can hear me.

How did I even get myself into this position? You would think that I'd lived long enough to stop doing stupid stuff, but apparently not. Natural selection should have weeded me out long ago. So hey, at least I'm screwing up Darwin's theory. That's kind of neat.

Should I ask whoever's down there to bring a sandwich? I could go for pastrami on sourdough, lots of spicy mustard, pickle on the side. Wash it down with a German pilsner. Yeah, that sounds good.

A siren rises and falls. Mechanical sounds surround me. They really are coming to get me, hopefully with a sandwich and beer.

The view up here is nice, though. I'll miss it. The sky looks big... not bigger than it does down there because, well, it's the sky. I mean, it looks big everywhere, right?

The treetops seem close enough to touch. In this particular tree, they are close enough to touch, which is kind of cool in its way.

Yeah, I'll miss this. Maybe I'll do it again sometime, just to mess with Darwin some more. Not that he cares. He's dead, after all.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Usable Parts

“I have several usable parts, but the thing as a whole lacks cohesion.” He held a pint of porter in one hand, a book on randomness in the other. He wore black jeans and a black T-shirt, almost the uniform of an unironic iconoclast 20 years his junior. He'd outlived irony and iconclasm, but not black clothes or the need to pontificate to strangers just met.

“What will you do?” she asked, twirling her hair with one hand, swirling her glass of pinot noir with the other. The answer didn't matter to her, she just liked to hear the sound of his voice. It reminded her of a time long since gone, when she was younger and more full of life. She imagined him that way, too, though they'd only known each other for 20 minutes—or at least as much as any two people can be said to know each after such a brief time.

“I'll rearrange them and hope it all somehow makes sense.” Not that he believed in magic, but it helped to believe in something—himself, perhaps. That was another thing he needed to work on, though he hardly had the time or inclination.

“I'm sure it will all work out,” she replied, still twirling and swirling. Her mind was doing cartwheels as she imagined other gymnastics they might perform together in the not too distant future. They could rearrange each other until it all somehow made sense. That would be good.

“Yes,” he said between sips of porter, “I'm sure it will.” He felt the warmth of her voice and was glad for her company. If he wouldn't believe in himself, maybe she could do it for both of them. That would be good.

They had usable parts. They lacked cohesion. And so they sat, sipping.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Perception Is a Hell of a Drug

How does context affect perception? What gives a thing its value?

If that thing helps sustain life, then the value is self-evident, so long as one values life itself. But other things may not have inherent value beyond what we imbue it with based on a variety of factors and influences, conscious or otherwise.

A painting, for example, does not help sustain life. Well, it may have helped sustain the painter's life in the sense that he or she could have exchanged it for money, which would be used to buy food. But what of the person that buys the painting?

Maybe it hangs on a wall somewhere. It could help improve the quality of life or perhaps in desperate times be exchanged for money to be used to buy food.

If the person who painted it was famous enough, the painting could be exchanged for money enough to buy much more than just food. The money could be used to buy more paintings by famous people.

But who determines which painters become famous? Who creates that market? What is the context that informs our perception of value, that makes one person's paintings worth so much more than another's despite the fact that both contain nothing more than pigments on canvas?

This phenomenon isn't limited to paintings. Tulips don't help sustain life, and yet they were once coveted beyond what logic would dictate they should be. Diamonds still are. So is extra virgin olive oil.

Yes, extra virgin olive oil can be used in preparing food, which helps sustain life. Canola oil serves the same purpose but is subject to very different market forces. Nobody pays top dollar for canola oil. Maybe one day the context will shift and canola oil will become valuable.

Perception is a hell of a drug.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Should've Left Sooner

He drove frantically toward the train station. She would be arriving soon and he had to be there for her, had to be prepared for whatever baggage—physical, metaphorical, or otherwise—she'd brought with her this time.

Red light. Red is the color of stopping, of contemplating drops of rain falling toward asphalt as the mind races like an engine on a track that never ends. Waiting for a new signal, a new direction. Wondering where the other cars might be going on a night like this.

The light turned green, which was his cue to go again. He did—perhaps too quickly for the conditions—and skidded through the intersection, kicking water onto other cars. Horns honked, but he kept moving. He heard the noise, was vaguely aware of it, but the commotion remained in the background as he focused on reaching his destination on time.

Buildings. So many buildings in this part of town, with surprisingly varied architectures. Easy to miss when whizzing past. Desensitized by familiarity. Stop and smell the concrete.

There were still 12 blocks to go and three minutes to get there. He would make it eventually, but not before she did. That immutable truth ate at him like ants devouring a dead bird. It overwhelmed him, animated him beyond reason.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Simple physics. Things get out of whack, movement is disproportionate to stimulus. Accidents happen, parts of the equation unaccounted for during meticulous calculations. Best effort isn't always good enough.

Six more blocks, 30 more seconds. Five seconds per block. There were no vehicles in production that could achieve such speed, even with the lights in his favor. There were barely vehicles in his dreams capable of such speed. Not that his dreams were of vehicles, asphalt, or trains. 

Should've left sooner.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Welcome Back

It wasn't quite where we'd hoped to be, but I'd seen worse. The time in New Jersey at an adult motel whose true nature wasn't revealed until the light of morning, when the once-packed parking lot had become dangerously empty was worse.

Such are the words one consoles oneself with when plans go awry. Sure, something bad happened but at least it wasn't this other bad thing.

The other problem is that my mind wasn't functioning well. It was stuck in gear, sputtering. It needed to be fixed. It needed a fix, a hit of something warm and soothing. How do people live like this?

“Hey man, you trippin'?” Caldwell's voice was disembodied, floating through clouds. I couldn't find the place where it lived. I fought every step of the way in my search, but the effort was pointless. I had no hope at all.

He was in my face. There was the voice. There he was. And here was I, still without hope.

“Pull it together,” he said, holding me by my shoulders. I think they were my shoulders. They felt like someone else's, and possibly not even shoulders. They felt like a loaf of bread.

Okay, maybe I hadn't seen worse. Maybe I was just lying to myself to make the situation seem less bad than it really was.

“Where the hell are we?” I asked.

Caldwell let me go. His face was distorted, like a kaleidoscope, but I'd come around enough to realize the problem was with my brain and not his face. I'd processed the images wrong. It's a thing that sometimes happened, a job hazard of sorts.

“Where do you think we are?”

“If I knew, I wouldn't have to ask.”

He laughed like thunder. “Hell is right. Welcome back.”

Monday, March 21, 2016

Fly Away Already

Nobody loves an airport. It's one of those necessary evils of the modern world, a glorified bus terminal transporting folks from one place to another. Too bright, too filled with small children and cranky bureaucrats that would doubtless rather be elsewhere.

The desert isn't a bad place to be. Unless you run out of water, of course. Then it's a very bad place to be, although only for a little while. Eventually you won't even notice the heat. Death is funny that way.

Meanwhile, planes might fly overhead. People could be sleeping or watching a crappy movie. There's a guy in row 14 drinking crappy vodka.

Some days everything is a struggle and you wish you were better at life. On the bright side, if you're not in the desert without water or in an airport, how bad can it be?

But such idle thoughts are small consolation when you're spinning in place, waiting for something more to come your way. Where are you trying to go? Do you even know? Do you care? Do you dare shoot for the moon in the hope of at least landing softly somewhere when you miss?

Or maybe you're the kind that prefers to go out in a blaze of glory, like a marshmallow held too long over the flame. Sure, it's a waste of perfectly good artificial foodstuff, but whew, look at it burn!

Still, there is much to do in a day. In a way it's not as bad as if you'd had less to do, had two left shoes or a pocketful of oxtail stew.

Words, though, are another story. They could tell a story if arranged properly. Too often they don't cooperate and remain a jumbled mess, coagulating like crappy vodka.

Does vodka even coagulate? Do marshmallows? Fly away already.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Meaning of Time

“What's the meaning of time?” she asked as Jeff Buckley played in the background. “Mojo Pin” had long been a favorite of hers, and today was no exception.

“Why does it have to have meaning?” He answered her question with a question, a cruel trick of his that caused her to pout, which he adored.

“I suppose it doesn't.” They were driving through the desert again, thinking too hard about things beyond their control as they whizzed past cholla, saguaro, and agave plants on the side of the road.

How had it come to this? That was another question she had, though one she didn't dare voice. The trouble with asking such questions, she had learned the hard way, is that sometimes unwelcome answers would come. Best to remain silent, which she did... for a while.

“We were gone a long time,” she said as one song bled into the next. The title track played:

There's the moon asking to stay
Long enough for the clouds to fly me away
Well it's my time coming, I'm not afraid to die

“Long enough to miss the place,” he said and she didn't disagree.

The highway made her lonely. Buckley made her lonely. Everything made her lonely. It was her way, as it is most everyone's way if they stop and think about it, which they usually don't.

“Still,” she said, “I would do it again.”

My time has come
It reminds me of the pain
I might leave
Leave behind

“Yeah, I could see that, in the right circumstances.”

“And what are the right circumstances?”

“Can't say I've given it much thought.”

She nodded. That was a fair response.

“Good question, though,” he said, “about the meaning of time.”

Saturday, March 19, 2016

She Saw

The trees swayed gently in the afternoon breeze. What is my next move? she wondered as a squirrel scampered past, unencumbered by such meddlesome thoughts.

She'd been here for hours and seen nothing extraordinary, nothing that she needed to report to her so-called superiors. But her training told her that this was when she could least afford to lose focus, lose sight of the goal. Others had done that, at great cost. She would not follow them.

My next move, she decided, is to remain here and forget about the squirrels.

It would be difficult, but then, everything about her job was. In truth, she didn't know the half of it. Their mission had been segmented into pieces, with each of them knowing only as much as was absolutely necessary to complete their individual task. Someone back at headquarters coordinated the entire affair, plotting maneuvers and allocating resources as appropriate

She was, literally, a pawn in a much larger chess game whose stakes she didn't fully comprehend. Being tempted by the occasional squirrel was understandable but unacceptable. Too much was at stake.

There, at eight o'clock. She swore she saw movement. Almost imperceptible, like a shadow in the bushes. Or was it just another insignificant rodent?

Nothing is insignificant, she reminded herself and remained alert, watching for the movement.

There it is again! She took deliberate steps toward the shadow, approaching at an angle that she hoped would disguise her intent until it was too late.

Part of the problem is that she didn't know what she was looking for. According to headquarters she didn't need to know. She would figure that out when she saw it and then determine whether to neutralize or intercept.

How do I fight an enemy I don't know? Is this even an enemy?

She saw.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Is a Train Comes in the Night

Is a train comes in the night carries folks and things from one place to another. Hard to say why or where it goes but it goes. Keeps going long after everyone else has drifted off to sleep and forgotten the world and its problems.

Is a cat runs underneath your feet and scampers beneath the shed in someone else's yard. Instinct or some such. Survival. Don't know where its next meal is or if there will be one.

Is a quiet in the mind when thoughts lie still for a moment before plotting the next move. The break feels good but can't last too long else death comes. Life is not for the slow of thought.

Nor is there a cat on the train dreaming of eight other lives. Nor does it sleep on your feet for a break. Nor is there time to reflect on what might have been.

Is a book with words of so-called wisdom dim folks quote for comfort. You can buy a copy second hand down at the shop and read for yourself. Make up your own mind about the truth.

Is a sadness fills your heart no matter how many words you might read. The nature of truth is such that it does not come without such melancholy. The taste of air is bittersweet.

Is a day same as all the others bleeding together like paint on a canvas. You can make a picture if your heart desires. It will express the moods of your life.

Nor is there a book of sadness that truth cannot bleed. Nor is there paint for comfort. Nor are there moods on a canvas.

In the end there is only what we know and its reflection. We catch brief glimpses before the train comes and carries it away.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Wild Ride

Who was it said anytime you have more than two people there's politics involved was right you know the way it is the way it was the way it always will be just how humans work and it's all so complicated because we're complicated creatures like rabbits only bigger and weirder and we make no sense hard enough when it's just one of us but get a few of us together or millions or billions and the planet creaks from our collective weight we don't know what we're doing even though we've been here for thousands of years and our ancestors before that depending on which books you consult or which experts you believe if you're more into science or religion or dividing everything into those two categories or other categories of your own invention like a system a series of systems the way everything is streets become towns become states become nations become continents become planets revolving around a star that's part of a galaxy in the universe or possibly one of many universes that somehow came into existence and are spinning around an invisible spot at the center as we cling for dear life on this wild ride through time and space always spinning till the end but there is no end because then we are dust still spinning atoms and molecules rearranged into other objects make their way around whatever this is spinning immortal as far as anyone knows not that anyone ever will because such knowledge is unattainable the human mind is so much smaller than the universe heads would explode or implode or otherwise be rendered unusable which is a problem if that head is attached to your body and you're trying to survive the ride if only for a little while that's over too soon.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Is It Just You?

“There was an apple in the dream... and a horse.”

“What do you make of that?”

“The apple, I think, represents life. Seeds form a core, from which all else grows. Such a small and humble beginning that expands into something greater than could be imagined.”

“And the horse?”

“Motion, going somewhere.”


“It could be escape. Or a necessary journey, perhaps even a transition of sorts.”

“Could it be both?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

“Why the juxtaposition of apple and horse?”

“I've been wondering that myself. If the apple is life and the horse is escape, then it's an attempt to escape life.”

“And how does one do that?”

“Death, I suppose, though that seems a bit drastic.”

“Does it have to be physical death, or could it be metaphorical... symbolic in some sense?”

“I see your point. Maybe the death of a part of me, a role. The horse guides me away from what I was to what I will become.”

“You were a seed, now you will be a fruit?”

“Yes, something like that. I'm not sure I'd call myself a fruit, but that's the idea.”

“Are there other possible interpretations?”

“I imagine there probably are.”

“And what might those be?”

“The apple and horse could represent nothing more than themselves.”

“Do you believe that?”

“I'm not sure.”

“What would you learn if that interpretation were true?”

“That sometimes people dream about apples and horses.”



“Why did you extrapolate from your own personal experience to all people?”

“I hadn't noticed until you mentioned it.”

“We all do it.”

“Do we? Or is it just you?”

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I Hate Number 12

At the ballpark, dude hits a homer. Bomb onto the lawn beyond right field. I'm standing there, waiting to catch the ball. Guy with tattoos and a beer cuts in front of me to snag it. No bigs, I didn't move, was comfortable where I was. Besides, what the hell am I going to do with a ball?

“Hey, here's that ball I caught on a bounce after some dude hit a homer.” Not my kind of party conversation, no offense. And it's not as funny as what actually happened.

About that. Guy with tattoos and a beer gives the ball to his kid, who then starts running around with it. Kid runs back toward the fence, starts throwing the ball in the air. You know, like kids will do.

Dad drinks his beer, game goes on. Kid is maybe 3 or 4 years old. I have no idea, everyone under 20 looks the same to me.

Grandma's like, “He's gonna throw it over the fence.” Dad says no way and keeps drinking.

Kid throws the ball into the fence a bunch of times. No arm, no coordination, lots of determination. Like the fence is an obstacle he's going to overcome.

The outcome is obvious to everyone but dad, who is oblivious. I'm rooting for the kid to succeed.

He does. On about the 20th try.

Dad can't believe it because he's a dumbfuck. Seriously, game's still going and he yells out, “Hey Number 12!” right as the pitch is about to be thrown.

Goddamn number 12 holds up a finger. After the pitch he calls time and picks up the ball, throws it back to dad, who—I'm not shitting—gives it back to the kid.

The whole family cheers. Dad still can't believe it. I hate number 12.

Monday, March 14, 2016


“We've known each other, what, 20 years?” He clings to his beer like a life preserver.

The joint is empty on a Tuesday afternoon, just Mick and me and a few drifters in from out of the heat. It's always cool and damp in here. Dark, smells like whiskey, sounds like the Rolling Stones. A good place to hide from whatever it is that haunts a man.

“Something like that,” I say.

There's no chicks in here, hardly ever is. Sometimes on a Saturday night they'll get a band in here play some tunes. They'll play CCR and the Eagles for a while, stuff a guy can drink to. Then they'll do “Shook Me All Night Long” and the girls go crazy, shake it all night long, or for at least a few minutes, which is as long as most guys can last anyway.

“How is it that I never knew you had a sister?”

The bartender, Len—short for Leonard, I guess—refills the bowl of stale pretzels in front of us to go with our beer. He's the only one been here longer than I have. He came here in '94, wasn't planning to stay in town, but here he still is like the rest of us. Hard to stay, harder to leave.

“No offense, Mick, but do you seem like the kind of fellow a guy'd want to let know he had a sister?”

He paws at the pretzels in front of him. Doesn't really want to eat them, but there they are like the rest of us. Probably had plans once upon a time. We all have plans.

“No, I don't suppose I do.”

He slings a few pretzels into his mouth and washes them down with beer. I do the same. Communion.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Coffee Is Good

What if a square was a triangle and happily ever after didn't mean life in the suburbs with a refrigerator that dispenses ice cubes? Maybe not that exactly, but something enough like it—or different enough—to shake up reality a bit.

Then that would be reality and four-sided squares would seem weird, unfathomable even. It's not so difficult to imagine. John Lennon could have done it.

Still, there is comfort in knowing dimensions and being able to trust in their immutability. Then again, what if a square was a triangle on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but a square on other days? Or what if days didn't exist as we have come to define them?

What if we had no language to describe shapes or days? Or what if we had language but it was other than what we know it to be? What if Tuesday was a three-sided object and a triangle was the first day of the work week?

It's all a pointless exercise when you think about it, which you don't. All exercise is pointless when you think about it, which you don't. All thinking is pointless, exorcise it. Don't. Don't. Don't.

Don't you forget about Lennon, who never imagined three-sided squares as far as anyone knows but who did—at least once—contemplate a girl with kaleidoscope eyes. Colors and body parts were more his thing than shapes and days of the week.

Isn't that part of the world's beauty? It has so many dimensions that it can be enjoyed on any level—even ones that don't exist. Levels, not dimensions, although the latter also makes as much sense as anything else.

What a weird place. Squares are squares, and Tuesdays are Tuesdays. Dimensions are immutable. People imagine and then die. Worse, they run out of coffee.

Don't do that. Coffee is good.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Relics of an Earlier Era

They were talking about the differences between various approaches. Advantages and disadvantages, justifications and refutations. The whole shebang as they say in places where they say that sort of thing.

“Why do you suppose our predecessors saw it that way?” she asked.

He squinted, pondering her query. He'd heard that same question posed in a mocking way, but she sounded genuinely interested. Something about the way she asked betrayed a curiosity that eluded many of their colleagues. He liked that about her.

“Good question,” he said. “I imagine that they were doing the best they could with information available to them at that time.”

She nodded.

“But as more information became available—”

“More information, or better information?”

He smiled. Yes, she understood. “As better information became available, thank you, others used that to gain further understanding. Unfortunately, not everyone had the desire or possibly even the ability to move forward with the rest of us.”

“So they became relics of an earlier era?”


“Why, then, do certain people mock them for their ways?”

“That's a little more complicated,” he said, rubbing his chin. “I suspect it has to do with feeling superior in the belief of one's own knowledge.”

“Or perhaps in the knowledge of one's own belief?”

“Yes, perhaps. The problem, of course, is that mockery isn't the best facilitator of understanding. As human discourse goes, there aren't many forms less conducive to it.”

“What's the solution?”

“I don't know, but one possibility might be for those that would mock to realize that their successors likely will have the same attitudes toward their held truths.”

“You're talking about compassion.”

“Yes, I suppose I am.”

“We aren't all so different.”

“No, we aren't.”

Friday, March 11, 2016

Better Ways to Spend an Evening

Ronson had had a few too many, missed his bus again. So he walked along McManus and its ratty apartments, parks full of vagrants, and what not.

The walk itself might have been pleasant under different circumstances. Crescent moon, warm breeze, night full of possibility.

But his head was filled with darkness and booze. He couldn't tell where one ended and the other began, wasn't sure it even mattered.

Cars whipped past him on the left. He felt so slow compared to them, man against machine. How had he missed the bus? Or, the better question: Why could he never make it to the stop on time?

“Fuck the bus,” he muttered while kicking at pebbles on the sidewalk.

He didn't care much if anyone heard him. The vagrants all muttered to themselves anyway. It's not like they would be paying attention to him, nor he to them. Beyond threat assessment, but he was drunk and they were homeless. Leave each other alone.

Plus everyone hated the buses in this town. If it came to a fight, they'd all flock to his side for that reason alone. As rallying causes go, there were worse.

He guessed it was another 20 minutes or so to Bancroft's place over on 47th. He looked for landmarks, but every shitty part of town looked like every other shitty part of town.

Corner stores and hookers. Goddamn crescent moon overhead watching him, judging.

How had he gotten here? Not walking along McManus to meet Bancroft, who he didn't care to see in the first place, but to a place in life where this sort of thing was even an option. There must be better ways to spend an evening.

Other people had figured it out. None that he knew, but they were out there... somewhere.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

For Better or for Worse

“At some point,” he called over his shoulder, “you begin to question your motivation.”

He couldn't see her behind him but knew that she was busy untying a knot that he had tied. It was always easier to tie one than untie. Like how climbing up a tree is easier than climbing down.

She struggled with the knot and had, in fact, begun to question her motivation. “What the hell did you to this thing?” she cried.

He had problems of his own, namely this stupid paint brush that wouldn't wash clean. He'd been working at it for a while but couldn't get the sticky brown substance out of the thing. In its current state it was worse than useless, which he hoped wasn't a metaphor for his own life.

“I might ask you the same about this paint brush.”

“You might,” she said as she tugged at a promising lead. She could follow the fabric's path, see where it began and ended, but couldn't figure out how it all fit together and made sense, which she hoped wasn't a metaphor for her own life.

“Okay, I'm asking.”

When had it all become so tangled and dirty? Where had things gone wrong? How had they arrived at this place? Why was the world filled with impossible knots and brushes?

“I painted with it,” she said, “what did you think?”

A silver sedan drove past and honked. They both looked up in time to see it pulling away, headed off to some other place. Neither of them knew where it was going, but both believed it had to be preferable to where they were now.

They could never leave. That was no metaphor, just the truth of their situation. For better or for worse.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Everything Was Sour

“She turned away, what was she looking at?”—Stone Temple Pilots

Who among us doesn't gaze into the past every once in a while? Some may do so with love, others with bitterness. Many dwell there longer than they should. The best visit briefly with indifference and then return to the moment at hand, remaining there as long as possible.

Breathing can be a challenge. It's harder than it looks. There is so much else to demand our attention, to distract us from what is important.

Something flits by and captures our imagination. No, it captures our entire being. It pulls us under the surface and into a desperate realm. We chase the invisible, the nonexistent. As pursuits go, there are more worthy and more fruitful than this.

Still, the experience doesn't have to be meaningless. Things could be worse. For example, you could be stuck in a dream where you're perpetually sinking into the sidewalk as your bus repeatedly arrives and then pulls away without you.

Other days the images are less vivid, which is fine. Dullness gets a bad rap. As a state of being, it's highly underrated.

What would you do? Gazing into a bittersweet song that reminds us of a past that maybe never existed gives us the illusion of vividness. Is this a worthy and fruitful goal?

The questions grow stranger the closer we look. Buses keep coming and going without us. We are left alone sinking in sidewalk, dreaming of better places, reminiscing about events that haven't happened. It's an awkward place to be, just like everywhere else in the known universe.

Look, there's my philosophy minor, twisting in the mind. I could have aimed higher, but what would I do if it followed? I turned away. What was I looking at?

Everything was sour.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

He's Out of Coffee

There's a photograph on the wall of a nude woman bent over so that the space between her arms and her breasts form the shape of a heart. Billie Holliday's voice permeates the place, as the few lonely travelers sit and enjoy the last of their coffees.

Outside people are trying to leave the city. They've put in their hours, now it's time to return to the suburbs and visit their families.

We are all travelers of some sort or another. Visitors, coming and going like flies, carried every which way by the currents of time.

“This is quite good,” says a man sitting near the window, “do you roast your own?”

He can't place the Holliday song, but it's a live cut. He remembers a dog he once saw not far from here and wonders where it might be now.

“Yes, I'm glad you like it,” says the woman behind the counter, scrubbing at things that need scrubbing. She will soon leave the city as well, though for now she seems happy enough to have a man sitting near the window complimenting her coffee.

It's the simple things, she thinks to herself.

He nods his head and searches for a clever response. Finding none he continues to savor his drink as the music plays on.

It's the simple things, he thinks to himself.

But is all of this really simple? The convergence of countless factors that conspired to bring these two individuals to this place at this time? It seems far more than mere coincidence.

Of course, that's the beauty of this illusion, why the trick works at all. How can any of us know what is coincidence and what is not? Where is the evidence for or against?

He's out of coffee. It's time to go.

Monday, March 7, 2016

It's Difficult to Be a Legend

It's difficult to be a legend. Ask anyone who has ever become one. The vast majority of them are dead, of course, which is not difficult. Being dead, that is. You just burn all your energy and return to the earth and the stars and the sky. Molecules, atoms, that sort of thing. Cosmic dust.

No, the hard part is living up to expectations. Being who others think you are. This doesn't apply only to legends, either. Most everyone is susceptible.

Also hard: waking up and having words flow like so much coffee. The mind turns in on itself and...

“We need dialog here, stat!” He wore a pink tuxedo and a cowboy hat, was shouting through a megaphone or a bullhorn. What's the difference between those two objects anyway? Or are they simply two distinct names for the same thing?

“I'm working on it!” She scrambled through her papers to see if any contained words she might speak in a dramatic fashion. No luck. All she had were lists. They held meaning to her but wouldn't necessarily translate into something interesting for an actual audience, real or imagined.

“This is terrible!” he cried, curious at his own screaming. Would he really use an exclamation mark here or would a period suffice? He remembered the pink tuxedo and decided that the exclamation mark was appropriate. There was nothing subtle about his dress. Why should his speech be any different?

She had no papers left to check. He had no words to back his tuxedo. They exchanged glances that were doubtless meaningful in some obscure way. They would have to improvise, which is something neither of them knew how to do.

He made a pouty face. She stuck out her tongue. Speech had ceased, death was near.

Legends, indeed.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sunset of Their Love

She had always been a shy girl, not given to outward displays of emotion. And yet here she was, unmistakably reveling in the sunshine of his love.

“We are sympatico, no?” she said, looking up into his impossibly blue eyes. A girl could get lost in there, and maybe she had. She didn't mind. It was like taking a wrong turn on some long road trip and ending up in an unexpected place. Maybe that place was better than her intended destination.

“Sometimes,” he said with a smile, “it is good to miss the mark.”

“Yes, when I am not with you, I do miss the Mark.”

He laughed, for although it was true that his name was Mark, it was also true that she was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He loved that about her. For one thing, it kept her from asking too many questions of the type he could not answer.

For another... he forgot, but there had been a second reason. It had seemed important to him once. Never mind, one was enough.

“Don't ever change,” he said.

She pouted. “But my clothes will get dirty.”

Yes, he had to admit, it could be annoying at times. Someday he might tire of her, but not today.

They watched the slowly dip into the river and disappear. Was this the sunset of their love? Or was it just the end of another perfect day together?

These were the types of questions he could not answer. He was glad that she didn't ask, although that didn't keep him from asking.

Best if only one of them were so plagued. Someday he might tire of the questions, but for now he had the afterglow of a disappeared sun. And he had her.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

You Can't See All the Angles

Sometimes you just need a different angle. A new way of looking at the same thing, so that it loses its sameness and becomes something real.

The solution could be as simple as a looking at a reflection or shifting a little to the right. Other times more drastic measures are needed. Flipping it upside down, inside out. Pushing it into unexplored or even unimagined dimensions.

An open mind helps. The ability to have, recall, and implement big dreams. It's almost like pretending to be a god of sorts. A master planner.

You can't see all the angles, nor can you know which among those is best, but you can give an honest effort and use your best judgment. Human qualities.

Some might see this as a limitation, but what does that really mean? It means you need to stay within certain boundaries but that within those boundaries you are free to do as you please.

That's pretty powerful. Like a haiku.

From an inner strength
Ideas bound by structure
Beauty arises

Or if you prefer more concrete images (or concrete structures), imagine a skyscraper that cannot fall. Perhaps a canal that water flows through, directed toward something specific, focused and useful.

Life itself might be a haiku. Then again, if you look at it from a different angle and see it new, maybe it's a skyscraper or a canal. There really aren't any limitations.

Thinking in this way requires effort. Many things do. But what is effort, if not the application of dreams? And what is more noble than applying dreams?

Because whatever is in your head right now, at this very moment, just might be desired by others. And unless you choose to share it, they will never know the potential even exists.

From an inner strength, beauty arises.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Did He Have to Wait a Whole Year?

Your experiences this week will all make good sense within the year.

It was the sort of phrase he might have expected to see on a fortune cookie fortune, not in a respected newspaper—well, maybe the horoscope section, but who reads that? Which brought to the fore another problem he hadn't considered until just then: Who reads newspapers anymore, respected or otherwise?

Everyone now with their cellphones, tablets, and doodads. It all made him feel older than he felt he had a right to feel. His hair was mostly intact, still the color it had been when he was a kid. His skin remained taut and somewhat smooth. He still spoke in a rich baritone and used it to voice complete, occasionally useful thoughts.

He stared at the words. They didn't make sense to him. Maybe that was the point. Maybe this experience he was having right now, of reading words in a newspaper that didn't make sense, would make sense within the year. That seemed an awful long time to wait for understanding of events that right now seemed so hopelessly trivial.

Words on a page—be they found in a fortune cookie or a newspaper—always made sense to him. That this phrase eluded his grasp troubled him. Why should it be so?

But perhaps that was the wrong question. Perhaps he was thinking too small. For example, why should newspapers or fortune cookies even exist?

The answer is simple enough: We all have a vested interest in what the future might bring. Past events reported in the newspaper might give us a clue toward such events. And he had to concede that phrases printed on paper found inside a cookie might well do the same.

It still didn't make sense to him. Did he have to wait a whole year?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

It Was Never a Question of Size

“It was never a question of size,” she said, “but of proportion.”

He gave a slack-jawed stare as she continued moving objects from one container to another.

“How can you possibly say that?” he asked.

“Easy,” she said, not slowing for a moment. “The truth always comes easy.”

“Apparently not to you,” he snorted.

“Size doesn't matter, as long as the ratios are close.”

“You're saying if it's small, that's okay if everything else is also small?”

“That's not how I would put it, but yes.”

“How would you put it?”

She turned toward him, a tube of toothpaste in her hand. “That's not important. Why do you insist on fixating on minutiae?”

“We're doing that again, are we?”

“Honestly, I don't know what we're doing.”

“No, you don't,” he said. “You never have.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, it's just one of your shortcomings. No need to feel ashamed about it.”

“One of my shortcomings? Ashamed? You're not making any sense.”

“Says the lady holding a tube of toothpaste.”

She looked down, and it was true, and it filled her with shame. But why? It was merely an object. She remembered this and let go of the shame while keeping a firm grasp on the toothpaste.

“You're fixating on minutiae again,” she said.

“And you're imposing your values on something that falls outside whatever system you've created.”

“I've created?”

He laughed. “Surely you don't think your beliefs about what constitutes minutiae are universally held. You can't possibly be that arrogant.”

“I'm not arrogant, I'm right. There's a difference, you know.”

“Yes, I know. Do you?”

She stared at the toothpaste. It was small.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Metaphors Are Like Rocks

“Won't you take me to Funkytown?”—Lipps, Inc.

There are places that seem to disappear once you leave them. Large expanses tend to be that way. Deserts are a prime example, or oceans. Any land traveled through by rail.

This phenomenon isn't confined to places. States of mind can vanish just as easily with the blink of an eye or the snap of a finger. Contentment and despair are forgotten when gone.

It's troubling to think that signposts are so movable. What we imagine to be anchors, moored to something stationary and immutable, are more like fallen tree branches that drift in a swiftly moving river.

Although the metaphor is pleasant enough, it also defies hopes and expectations. Where is the firma in terra firma?

Gaps in knowledge, gaps in space. We spend our days trying to fill them all, like so many prisoners filling countless holes with an equally irksome number of rocks. Hop on the chain gang, ladies and gentlemen, this promises to be a funky ride.

That's a limitation of metaphor. It represents the thing but is not itself the thing. It is a signpost or, as we have recently declared, a fallen tree branch drifting in a river. It moves, as we move despite our best efforts to remain still.

But stillness remains attainable. Some rare individuals can find that place in life, though most of us must wait until later, when our atoms return to the larger universe. Even then, those atoms remain in motion and our metaphor breaks again, like tree branches smashed against rocks in that river.

To overextend things, we might also suggest that those rocks get worn down by the moving water and are eventually small enough that prisoners can use them to fill holes.

Metaphors are like rocks. They break down.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

They Might Even Survive

“We've come too far to turn back now,” said Robbins, floating in mid-air, a hint of angst and peppermint in his voice.

He stared down at the ground below them. It was still there, which he took for a good sign. If the surface had yielded, he'd have had to make alternate arrangements. Robbins was trained for that possibility, knew the right tactical maneuvers, but hoped he wouldn't have to implement them any time soon or ever in his lifetime for that matter.

“Agreed,” said Steptoe, whose thin black mustache held firm even as everything around them fell apart. “What are our options?”

He was new at all this but possessed a surprising calm for one so untested. Where Robbins had training and experience, he only had the former. And yet, there was something about him... his resolve was every bit as firm as his mustache.

Robbins had noticed, and now that they were stuck in this situation together, he was glad for it. Better to lack experience than fortitude. He mulled Steptoe's question over in his mind. Options, yes... those would be good to have.

“The way I see it,” he said at last, “we can either continue forward or alter course. We could move to one side and try to go around.”

Steptoe nodded.

“There appears to be a weakness over there,” continued Robbins, pointing at a gap some 30 yards off to the right. “If we can hit it hard, we might be able to exploit that.”

Steptoe's eyes lit up. “Turn a weakness into a strength. Yes, I see!”

Robbins nodded. This one had brains, which was encouraging. With that and a fair amount of luck, they just might achieve their objective. Better still, they might even survive.