Saturday, November 12, 2016

Waking Up.

I am not here to add words or feelings about the election of our nation's first orange president. Several other people have expressed all of the words and all of the feelings much more eloquently than I ever could.

I am here to talk about snoring. On Wednesday morning the house was empty but for me and a very persistent, shuffling bass note note rising and falling in the hallway. After picking up my phone to check results, and then putting down the phone to let reality sink in, I just stared at the wall and felt surprisingly comforted by that sound.

GeorginaThe canine doing the snoring, a rescue we are fostering and who herself has caused a whole separate tide of words and feelings on my part, is obviously unconcerned about recent events. She is safe, after too long not being safe. She harbors no feelings for orange people or elections or the climate or the future. Her chief outrages involve the groomer and being denied the couch. It's pretty simple.

You probably have a sound like that in your life. Maybe it's your kid playing, or laughing at something silly. Maybe it's your life boss saying that one phrase, for the millionth time, to the kid or canine, where they use that special voice they use only with that special being—the way they say good morning, or well done, or you're loved. Maybe it's a clock you treasure because it ticked for someone who lived long before you in another place, and now it ticks for you. Maybe it's the trees rustling off their last leaves and your feet shuffling them along, just like last year and the year before that.

When you dial into that sound, whatever it is, understand that it means you have created a place here, and you have life around you that is more important than any four-year turn of events. You have people and creatures who need you, causes you can support, and kindnesses you can supply. We could all stand to listen better. More. Now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


I love this thought, speaking as the child author of an unpublished how-to series on spying.

I think innocence is something that adults project upon children that's not really there. Children--in f you think back really what it was like to be a child and what it was like to know other children--children lie all the time. They have to lie. It's the only way they can do what they want to. They have no financial control. They have no control whatsoever. In order to go where they want to, do what they want to--`Oh, I'm just running down to Joshua's house.' Children do it all the time. And I think when adults become parents that a veil of forgetfulness sort of drips gently over them and I think they just forget how much children depend on lying and secrecy. Children love secret club houses. They love secrecy even when there's no need for secrecy.
-- Donna Tartt

Music: "Feeling Nostalgic" (Less Than Zero score by Thomas Newman)

Friday, July 01, 2016

Independence Day.

The passage below, scrabbled on the back of a flyer, was recently culled from my extensive archive. I decided to share it here because to me it's an embarrassingly perfect expression of pure self-pity, especially the kind you feel when you're a single twentysomething in New York in the 1990s.

I can remember whom this is about, but the details, as well as the feelings, are like one of those faded ad murals on the side of brick buildings, chipped away and barely legible. Like... I guess I cared about this at one point?

Still haven't totally conquered the self-pity reflex, and still don't have a good vantage point for the fireworks, but it's nice to come across stuff like this and recognize freedom from the b.s. of the past.


It's Independence Day, and appropriately, I have been ditched by friends, who migrated to Long Island, which in an odd reversal becomes the inside for a day while Manhattan is the outside. Realized that my window faces West instead of East, where the fireworks are, and without any rooftop access I'm able to discern, stayed inside alone and watched the reflection of the fireworks in the skyscrapers, listening and wishing the sound was a thunderstorm instead.

I don't feel independent at all. I feel shackled to this notion I had six weeks ago, when we were walking near his apartment one night and, inexplicably, fireworks began going off, so we watched from the corner. I looked forward to watching the "real" show later that summer with him and his friends, having someone to kiss, not having to wonder whether I'd be sitting alone in my apartment, thinking of him watching the same stupid show while kissing someone else.

Generally I don't really care much for the Fourth, anyway.

Music: "Game for Fools"

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


The beginning of this year was a doozy, wasn't it? My posts to this blog seemed like they were going to take flight as if it were the mid-2000s again, as if blogging were still a thing. Then the funding for my job went into slow-motion implosion and, well, priorities shifted.

But it's not just that. This blog sometimes feels like that friend you haven't written to in awhile. You really want to be in touch. You're thinking about that person and wishing you could just sit down and talk, like you used to in the old days. But now so much shit has happened, and there's that one email from a month ago that you never even answered—you're such a dick—and the task of capturing everything you've been feeling and wanting to say is hopelessly gargantuan at this point, and you think...

I have to, have to finally write [him/her/that post] this week.

And that never happens, because you waded out a little too far, and now the waves keep crashing, one after another, a new one towering ahead just as you've managed to catch your breath from the last one.

So you pick the easy things. You fall in love with a hibiscus plant at the Home Depot (not Home Depot, THE Home Depot), a store you used to vaguely recognize as the place your dad likes before it became a prime destination for you. You decide you must adopt the lonely hibiscus displayed way in the back because it looks like a full-on sunset in five petals, and even though you don't live in the tropics, what's so bad about pretending to for a summer and then bringing the thing inside for the winter? You just need the huge ceramic pot and the fertilizer and the specially draining soil...

When everything was still frosted over, you said goodbye to your office and set about building your own business as an army of daffodils marched into the garden, early this year because they were fooled into it by humans, and they reminded you that soon the days wouldn't be so dark. 

You'd always wanted to do your own thing, but you'd been afraid to. Plus, you never had an impetus, until life gave you an impetus, along with a new gig that let you set some of your own terms.

You retrieve some items from your collection to play on the turntable that Sir UM got for the house. The records you have are deep. Like almost comically deep, as things stood on April 2. Bootlegs and side projects, collectibles.

Then, exactly two months ago today, the strangest thing happened.

Even though I've emailed myself some Feelings and tried to draft posts, I still don't have the words to address it, and lord knows no one needs me to, given just how much has been said about it.

So, outside of work, it's picking the low-hanging fruit. It's gazing excessively at plants and nail polishes. Finishing out the school year doing lunch-hour reading with a fifth-grader friend. Making dinners and sometimes desserts for me and Sir UM, who is currently doing his own incredibly hard thing.

We look at rescue dogs online, mentally adopting them, getting ready to maybe one day do it for real. We go to Philadelphia so I can watch my college singing group's amazing spring show and visit with old friends.

But see, all of this is taking place within a new framework, a freelance one where every hour has to be accounted for. In the new world, there's no "slow day." No paid hours chatting by the coffee maker or mooning over terrible world events (so many terrible events), no bank credit while you run to the doctor, or go on vacation.

There's just billable, or not billable. For example:

- The daytime hours doing assigned writing in my sunroom with good coffee, yay
- The weeknight hours spent interviewing a coal expert in Australia or a conservationist in Indonesia, alright
- The time I spend researching and reporting on topics largely of my own choosing, thank you            

Not Billable
- The daytime trip downtown to meet a friend for coffee, heygoodtoseeyou
- The hours spent looking at Prince-related stories, stopitnowstopit
- Yard breaks, justgoingoutsideforasecond

No complaints. I like working on assignment. I like making the deadlines, helping people out. And it's probably a good thing that I now have to think about my time in a much more granular, purpose-driven way. Sometimes, yes, I miss paid vacation days. but wouldn't trade it for anything. The upshot is, every hour is billable to something. Your livelihood. Your loved ones. Your sanity. Your soul. Remember that's always true, whether you're freelance or not: Every hour is billable.

Music: "Same Ol' Mistakes"

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Stop Telling Women to Smile.

On the way back to the office from an outing today, I spent a good few minutes thinking about being told to smile by strangers on the street. I'd just passed a potential "smile" zone that proved to be quiet, but it made me think how amazing it is that women who go around minding their own business all day long still have to deal with so much unsolicited running commentary.

"Smile for me!"
"Smile, it's not so bad."
"Aw, it's not that bad is it?"

This kind of b.s. used to happen to me so regularly in New York that I thought it must be a side-effect of my condition, RBF. Now that I am old, I get it far less often, but it still happens from time to time. What's even more amazing is how this never really registered to me as harassment, or at least not in any real way, because it wasn't hissing or sex-faces, which would happen too.

Then I heard an interview with the founder of this awesome street-art movement, Stop Telling Women to Smile, and realized it wasn't my RBF, and it wasn't just New York and D.C., and furthermore, it really wasn't my motherfucking problem if some random-ass dude feels entitled to tell me what expression to put on my face.

I thought about how unfortunate it was that the younger me always felt obligated to smile in response, to be "polite" somehow. That maybe I should indeed try to go around looking more cheerful. Not anymore, I thought to myself. How ridiculous. Shaking my head.

I swear what I am about to relate is true. Not 10 minutes after this particular train of thought, I get back to the office, walk through the lobby, and get into the elevator. It's me, a younger dude, and an older dude with a mustache that I've seen around the building before.

Younger dude gets off the elevator and then it's me and the older dude for two more floors. It's quiet and I can tell he's just itching to say something.

Can you guess, reader, what he said?

Oh yes. "Smile," I hear from my periphery. "It's not so bad." A laugh.

But of course, I'm not on the street. I'm in an elevator, next to a fellow employee I might see again. So what did I do? I smiled. It was a sour, weary smile, to be sure, but not the stone-cold shutdown I'd been mentally practicing just a few minutes ago.

Sigh. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Early on in our seven-year history, I learned that Sir UM has a soft spot for the egg custard tart. You usually see this little guy at dim sum meals, but during an early visit to San Francisco, he took me to a bakery in Chinatown JUST to get the tart.

My experience of Asian food growing up white in the Maryland suburbs was: "Chinese takeout." In quotes. That's it. Cashew chicken, moo shu vegetables, pork fried rice. No dim sum. No sushi. No Thai or Vietnamese exposure, even, for this Sbarro aficionado. I'm not saying the options didn't exist; they just weren't in the picture for my family.

Moving to San Francisco changed that, big time, but the allure of dim sum remained opaque to me. A poorly lit, crowded room and food on wheels? During the day? Aren't there better things to do with the sunlit hours?

Now, after finally getting with the program via awesome meals in San Fran and New York, I have the proper appreciation for those rattling metal carts, and we happen to have a great place just a few minutes away in the suburbs, not far from where I grew up, that can satisfy the craving.

It's the kind of place where a crowd starts to form by 12:30 p.m. Where the cheesy name and unassuming exterior belie the deliciousness inside. Where the staff bring out forks to put next to the chopsticks when they seat a white person.

Here is where I finally learned about Sir UM's secret.

"Have you ever tried licking the tart?" he asked at the end of a recent dim sum meal, a plate of custards in front of us.

"What do you mean?" I said. Of course I'd never tried anything of the sort.

Truthfully, the tart always seemed extremely skippable, a fairly anodyne conclusion to a meal that involves whirling steam, chile sauce, and meats mauled into bite-size packages. Its charms are somewhat obscured by how pale and bland it looks. (You know, like me.) I'd eaten maybe four in my whole life.

He explained how, as a little kid in Singapore, he learned to hide his secret compulsion to lick the top of the custard tart.

Tonguing a tart is poor table manners, obviously. But have you ever tried? It turns out you get a hit of the sweetness concentrated at the top, while enjoying the silky smooth perfection of the surface.

His "technique," refined over many meals with adults, involves bringing the tart up to your face with both hands, forming a sort of visual screen, and then tilting the tart toward your mouth so that you can sneak in a lick, without anyone seeing, before you take a bite.

I love this for so many reasons, but the main one is how children can always figure out a way to enjoy life in the face of stiff adult opposition, and how adults are so removed from that enjoyment that they wouldn't necessarily know what to police. Among the many crimes I often got away with as a kid: drinking through a straw without holding the cup on the table, letting my ice cream melt into soup, concocting "potions" out of kitchen condiments, and collecting the colorful wrappers from candy that I'd eaten.

So now when we go to dim sum, I work on my technique, bringing the tart up to my face for a seemingly normal bite and going in for the kill. I treasure the secret, even though it will never be as surreptitiously sweet as it was to the little boy who first had the idea.

What innocent joys did you get away with as a kid?

Friday, February 05, 2016

OH: A Bizarre Attachment to Gender Identity via LEGO.

Thursday evening, crowded Metro elevator in the suburbs. A little girl, about five years old with two dark blond ponytails, stands with her dad. She is clutching a LEGO creation.

Stranger Lady, who is a loud talker: "WOOOowww do you have more of those at home?" (referring to the LEGO).

I assume the girl answered somehow, but the elevator was crowded, so I couldn't see the exchange.

Stranger Lady: "That's good, so you can build more COOL things at home. Do you have the PINK LEGOS?" (Expert enough on LEGO to know that there are pink ones, but amateur enough to use the 's' on the plural.)

Dad, tentatively: "Ummmm, yeah, we've seen those, but we haven't gotten any yet."

Stranger Lady: "Oh yeah they have PINK ones for GIRLS. They're great... " (goes into her own ownership story of pink LEGO)

Elevator doors open, people start filing out. Stranger Lady calls after the dad and girl. "You'll love them. They're PINK. For GIRLS!"


I wasn't aware that actually this was a thing until my coworker came up to me whilst I was researching pink LEGO options. I'd come upon this page, and noticed the words in red: "Retired Product." This began a conversation about pink, girly LEGO, and a coworker informed me that there had been a big controversy about it a few years ago.

As a girl who loved tiny pencils, Barbies, and Strawberry Shortcake dolls as much as I loved building forts, playing football, and Star Wars figures, I don't think we should get rid of all girly toys. I DO think that loud-talker, who was not far from my age, should have fucking known better. If you like pink LEGO, you go play with them, lady. We don't need to be telling girls that they should like pink and princesses any more than we should be telling boys to like football and shooter games. Why does this still happen?

Just FYI, the pinkest, foofiest LEGO sets that I could find, using the "girls" search tag on the site and refining to "Disney Princess," are the disturbingly romantic-sounding Sleeping Beauty's Royal Bedroom and Ariel's Magical Kiss.

They are both sold out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Without Warning.

"Huge bombshell," my mom texted last week.

"[He] is leaving [her.] They went back to [state redacted], settled on their new house, and then"

Here the text ended, like a cliffhanger scene in a soap opera. The portentous iMessage ellipsis told me to wait five minutes. And then:

"He went to the lawyer, put the house in her name, went home and told her he would be leaving because he needs to be alone. The house is hers 'free and clear.' He's going to one of his far away places on the 21st and won't be back. Needless to say [she] is completely shocked and devastated. She had no clue."

They'd been together more than 10 years, having met later in life, too old for kids, but young enough to see that the scars from previous unions could be healed, and that it was never too late to be happy.

At Christmas, nothing seemed amiss. They talked about their new house, and the process of selling the old one, which they'd decided was too big for them.

He travels a lot for work. We're told.

My feelings about him as a person, or as an addition to the family, necessarily deferred to one fact: He made her happy. I don't know much about their situation, but I can tell you this: Nothing about the man suggests he "needs to be alone."

That weekend Sir UncMo and I sat at the dining room table having a late breakfast when he saw something through the front window.

"Is that... Is that an owl?"

We left our chairs and headed for the living room. Across the street, a very large, beige presence stood on top of the neighbor's fence.

"What IS that?"

"I can't tell." I went to get my glasses. He went to get his camera.

The Being across the street dove off the fence and flew right in our direction, low and slow. Its wings seemed to span the two of us in the window. It glided past the daffodil shoots that emerged in the odd, warm December and now stood stuck, mid-stride, in the first real cold of January.

"Whoa," I breathed. A hawk. It veered away from us and landed on the front yard lamppost.

Sir UncMo managed to get this shot through the window, but the hawk flew away when we opened the front door to get a better look.

We'd been making fun of the rabbit that greets us in the evenings at home. He (we always assume, without basis, that it is the same male rabbit, dubbed Baxter, Brewster, Bobby, or some mischievous Bunny name along those lines) snacks in the front yard but hops to the edge when we approach, turning his back to any humans.

"They'll never see me here," we imagine he's thinking, his white cottontail like a beacon in the twilight, motionless and waiting for us to pass.

This approach obviously is not going to work with the tsunami of a bird above.

Let's get didactic about it. So far 2016 feels like a hawk. Infallibles like Bowie and Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey are suddenly gone. It's gotten bitterly cold after a period of eerie warmth, and the weather experts are calling for a major snowstorm by Friday. Shit feels unpredictable.

It's been very hard to get out of bed these last few days. Instead of driving to the Metro, I walk so that the biting air will wake me up. I try to focus on my limbs carrying me along, painless and solid, fingers freezing in their gloves, nose running and eyes tearing, blinking thankfulness into every step.


To me it's a crying shame, and I know Adele would agree, that when you type the words "frozen video" into Google, that there is no trace, not a shred of evidence, that Madonna ever sang a song with that title, not to mention filmed a clip where she falls onto the desert earth and transforms into a bunch of birds.

That's because all the results are about Disney's rip-off of Snow Queen.

After all the ridiculously mild weather here on the East Coast, a day of bitter wind and twentysomething temperatures feels like an insult. The calendar reminds me that it's just par for the course, or it should be.

The icy dry weather immobilizes my face, walking to the Metro, and I let it. My efforts to smile and cede the way evaporate with all other moisture. My face is a mask, and I haven't even had Botox. Yet.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Put On Your Red Shoes and Dance the Blues.

"You are to keep your gliding motion, no dancer will be able to move as gracefully as you, but at every step it will feel as if you were treading on a sharp-edged knife, so sharp that your feet will seem to be bleeding." —Hans Christian Andersen, "The Little Mermaid"

January. The Christmas tree is out on the sidewalk. The boxes are put away. The light through the windows, when you finally wake up, is dim at best. The old convertible's windshield is frozen over—from the inside. The new Twitter feed has only three blessed followers, yet somehow the ad algorithms already know it's the right target for the sponsored tweet from Probiotic America about stomach problems.

On Saturday, while I was dragging myself through the day and getting some provisions at the grocery store, this song came on.

It lit me up. "I forgot about this song," I said to myself, lip-syncing shamelessly through the aisles of the store. No idea, like most people, that he was sick. Just enjoyed the moment.

It's possible there were more classic, "better" David Bowie songs. But 1980s singles Bowie is the Bowie for me. "Blue Jean," "Let's Dance," "Modern Love," and "China Girl." With a dollop of later-discovered, earlier-recorded Dick Cavett flavor.

By Monday, David Bowie's technicolor, stoic, enviably cool approach to sorrow permeated everything, because he'd died, and the world was still human enough to respond.

Sir UncMo went to the track below. (Well actually, the a cappella version.) It happens to be the song he sang at karaoke the night we met, but that's not why he played it. He played it because it was as perfect a way as any to note how time doesn't give a fuck when it comes to staggering talent.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Sitting Ducks.

Lately the word "weird" gets uttered a lot at my workplace. 

The organization I work for is going through a seismic shift. Longtime employees have been bought out. Good people are being let go, or getting fed up and leaving of their own accord. For the rest of us, it's lots of shrugging, sad smiles, and saying "things are weird."

I am not exactly like most other employees, though. I am full-time with benefits, but on an annual contract subject to renewal, because a sponsor funds my work. This shielded me, to some degree, from the recent turmoil, but now it's my turn. My contract is up.

Technically speaking, I am now six paychecks away from being unemployed.

I've been renewed at least five times. Once it really came down to the wire, but it was clear all along that my boss at the time had my back and was working on it. 

This year is different, though. The players and the game are changing. Everyone is distracted. My current boss asked for a meeting tomorrow. I imagined, with a pit in my stomach, that he had bad news about the contract. It turns out he just wants to talk story ideas for the year. The fact that we're FourFiveSeconds from bye-day is not at all on the radar.

The whole transition means all bets are off on who will be around in two or three months. "[Coworker's name redacted] is looking," a coworker whispered to me today. "She said she's doing at least one thing each day" toward the goal of finding a new position.This was a model worth following, as far as my colleague was concerned: One action every day. 

"I'm not going to be a sitting duck," she declared, walking back to her desk. (No joke, I had just taken the picture above that very morning.)

"Makes sense," i said from my perch by the side of the pool, and tucked my beak squarely back into my feathers.

And her view does make sense, all the sense in the world. I have no illusions about my situation. I don't imagine that some eleventh-hour decision will save my job, even though it has before and very well might still. Like my colleague, I'm exploring options and reaching out to smart people I know. Trying to save money, lay a cushion.

The difference is that on some level, I completely accept that all of the cards have been dealt, and that I am now in the position of watching how the hand plays out. I truly believe that no conversation I have there will change anything at this point, nor will rushing to find another job similar to the one I have. I am not asking for meetings or trying to hatch survival strategies. I am not spending much time on internal job boards, much as I'd like the option to stay. The business I'm in is in a state of perpetual upheaval, and nothing I do is going to create security there. 

I know I'm supposed to be freaked out at the prospect that my job technically ends in three months. But, anxiety dreams aside, I'm just not—yet, at least. Because I no longer believe that any job in and of itself is going to solve my problems or define my personal future. If my current work ends, I will find more. I know who I am at this point, what I can contribute and what I cannot. 

I had a different ending to this originally, sort of a lame pep talk directed at the tiny part of me that might be freaking out a little, and feeling tired from all the change. Never mind that. My point is that there can be value in settling in, putting your head down, and doing some watchful waiting, rather than trying to plunge in and paddle against the tide. The wind can change, and answers can emerge, even from choppy water.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Second Bakery Attack.

"Yo! So, I’m shutting down [my company's] hosting stuff. Can you find a new home for [] by year end?" my brother wrote in November. 

Here's just how dated my old portfolio site is: The name at the top is "open session." Does this ring a bell, dear reader? Did you, by chance, use UNIX or FTP in the nineteen nineties?

Keeping that site alive was a form of digital hoarding. I accepted my brother's message in the way I might accept it was finally time to put a hopeless pet to sleep. I don't think a lot of people are scrambling to find my old McSweeney's posts, New York restaurant reviews, and early 2000s music reviews. I copied and pasted some text for my archives and said goodbye.

But there's one, legally questionable thing I want to keep alive, which is the Haruki Murakami tribute below. 

Now, these days, saying "Murakami is a very talented, absorbing, inspiring writer" is like presuming to tell people "There's this musician Prince who's very singular, get hip to it." But I'm telling you, at the time, some 20 years ago, he was not as pervasive. Anyway, I still get random thank-you notes from people for this transcription job, and my hope is that it will open the way for more book sales for Mr. Murakami, which he does not need, but does deserve.

Like all other Murakami, this particular story expresses three fundamental truths: 
one, you can never really know anyone; 
two, we all live with some past scar that will eat us alive if we don't deal with it; 
and three, some things just cannot be explained.

I especially like this introductory copy because I JUST centered a post on some landscape vacation pictures. 

Haruki Murakami: The Second Bakery Attack

Did you ever try to share something that impresses you very much with someone who impresses you very much, only to receive an impressive lack of appreciation?

It's like taking landscape pictures from your vacation, and then showing them around. Just don't bother.

This happened to me with Haruki Murakami. Murakami is a very talented, absorbing, inspiring writer who wrote the best short story I have ever read, "Sleep." He also wrote the following story (which is shorter than "Sleep" and thus more transcription-friendly), which I numbed my little fingers typing out one day at work, risking my job, eyesight and circulation for the sake of e-mailing it to three ingrates whose puzzled, lackluster reactions made them unworthy of my suffering. (I mean, I was also really bored and, in retrospect, potentially a bit touched that day; but that's beside the point.)

I guess we must choose our cultural battles carefully.

But if at least one person is searching for some electronic Murakami and is gratified by this page, my labor will not have been in vain.


The Second Bakery Attack, by Haruki Murakami
I'm still not sure I made the right choice when I told my wife about the bakery attack. But then, it might not have been a question of right and wrong. Which is to say that wrong choices can produce right results, and vice versa. I myself have adopted the position that, in fact, we never choose anything at all. Things happen. Or not.

If you look at it this way, it just so happens that I told my wife about the bakery attack. I hadn't been planning to bring it up--I had forgotten all about it--but it wasn't one of those now-that-you-mention-it kind of things, either.

What reminded me of the bakery attack was an unbearable hunger. It hit just before two o'clock in the morning. We had eaten a light supper at six, crawled into bed at nine-thirty, and gone to sleep. For some reason, we woke up at exactly the same moment. A few minutes later, the pangs struck with the force of the tornado in The Wizard of Oz. These were tremendous, overpowering hunger pangs.

Our refrigerator contained not a single item that could be technically categorized as food. We had a bottle of French dressing, six cans of beer, two shriveled onions, a stick of butter, and a box of refrigerator deodorizer. With only two weeks of married life behind us, we had yet to establish a precise conjugal understanding with regard to the rules of dietary behavior. Let alone anything else.

I had a job in a law firm at the time, and she was doing secretarial work at a design school. I was either twenty-eight or twenty-nine--why can't I remember the exact year we married?--and she was two years and eight months younger. Groceries were the last things on our minds.

We both felt too hungry to go back to sleep, but it hurt just to lie there. On the other hand, we were also too hungry to do anything useful. We got out of bed and drifted into the kitchen, ending up across the table from each other. What could have caused such violent hunger pangs?

We took turns opening the refrigerator door and hoping, but no matter how many times we looked inside, the contents never changed. Beer and onions and butter and dressing and deodorizer. It might have been possible to saute the onions in the butter, but there was no chance those two shriveled onions could fill our empty stomachs. Onions are meant to be eaten with other things. They are not the kind of food you use to satisfy an appetite.

"Would madame care for some French dressing sauteed in deodorizer?"

I expected her to ignore my attempt at humor, and she did. "Let's get in the car and look for an all-night restaurant," I said. "There must be one on the highway."

She rejected that suggestion. "We can't. You're not supposed to go out to eat after midnight." She was old-fashioned in that way.

I breathed once and said, "I guess not."

Whenever my wife expressed such an opinion (or thesis) back then, it reverberated in my ears with the authority of a revelation. Maybe that's what happens with newlyweds, I don't know. But when she said this to me, I began to think that this was a special hunger, not one that could be satisfied through the mere expedient of taking it to an all-night restaurant on the highway.

A special kind of hunger. And what might that be?

I can present it here in the form of a cinematic image.

One, I am in a little boat, floating on a quiet sea. Two, I look down, and in the water, I see the peak of a volcano thrusting up from the ocean floor. Three, the peak seems pretty close to the water's surface, but just how close I cannot tell. Four, this is because the hypertransparency of the water interferes with the perception of distance.

This is a fairly accurate description of the image that arose in my mind during the two or three seconds between the time my wife said she refused to go to an all-night restaurant and I agreed with my "I guess not." Not being Sigmund Freud, I was, of course, unable to analyze with any precision what this image signified, but I knew intuitively that it was a revelation. Which is why--the almost grotesque intensity of my hunger notwithstanding--I all but automatically agreed with her thesis (or declaration).

We did the only thing we could do: opened the beer. It was a lot better than eating those onions. She didn't like beer much, so we divided the cans, two for her, four for me. While I was drinking the first one, she searched the kitchen shelves like a squirrel in November. Eventually, she turned up a package that had four butter cookies in the bottom. They were leftovers, soft and soggy, but we each ate two, savoring every crumb.
It was no use. Upon this hunger of ours, as vast and boundless as the Sinai Peninsula, the butter cookies and beer left not a trace.

Time oozed through the dark like a lead weight in a fish's gut. I read the print on the aluminum beer cans. I stared at my watch. I looked at the refrigerator door. I turned the pages of yesterday's paper. I used the edge of a postcard to scrape together the cookie crumbs on the tabletop.

"I've never been this hungry in my whole life," she said. "I wonder if it has anything to do with being married."

"Maybe," I said. "Or maybe not."

While she hunted for more fragments of food, I leaned over the edge of my boat and looked down at the peak of the underwater volcano. The clarity of the ocean water all around the boat gave me an unsettled feeling, as if a hollow had opened somewhere behind my solar plexus--a hermetically sealed cavern that had neither entrance nor exit. Something about this weird sense of absence—this sense of the existential reality of nonexistence—resembled the paralyzing fear you might feel when you climb to the very top of a high steeple. This connection between hunger and acrophobia was a new discovery for me.

Which is when it occurred to me that I had once before had this same kind of experience. My stomach had been just as empty then...When?...Oh, sure, that was—

"The time of the bakery attack," I heard myself saying.

"The bakery attack? What are you talking about?"

And so it started.

"I once attacked a bakery. Long time ago. Not a big bakery. Not famous. The bread was nothing special. Not bad, either. One of those ordinary little neighborhood bakeries right in the middle of a block of shops. Some old guy ran it who did everything himself. Baked in the morning, and when he sold out, he closed up for the day."

"If you were going to attack a bakery, why that one?"

"Well, there was no point in attacking a big bakery. All we wanted was bread, not money. We were attackers, not robbers."

"We? Who's we?"

"My best friend back then. Ten years ago. We were so broke we couldn't buy toothpaste. Never had enough food. We did some pretty awful things to get our hands on food. The bakery attack was one."

"I don't get it." She looked hard at me. Her eyes could have been searching for a faded star in the morning sky. "Why didn't you get a job? You could have worked after school. That would have been easier than attacking bakeries."

"We didn't want to work. We were absolutely clear on that."

"Well, you're working now, aren't you?"

I nodded and sucked some more beer. Then I rubbed my eyes. A kind of beery mud had oozed into my brain and was struggling with hunger pangs.

"Times change. People change," I said. "Let's go back to bed. We've got to get up early."

"I'm not sleepy. I want you to tell me about the bakery attack."

"There's nothing to tell. No action. No excitement."

"Was it a success?"

I gave up on sleep and ripped open another beer. Once she gets interested in a story, she has to hear it all the way through. That's just the way she is.

"Well, it was kind of a success. And kind of not. We got what we wanted. But as a holdup, it didn't work. The baker gave us the bread before we could take it from him."


"Not exactly, no. That's the hard part." I shook my head. "The baker was a classical-music freak, and when we got there, he was listening to an album of Wagner overtures. So he made us a deal. If we would listen to the record all the way through, we could take as much bread as we liked. I talked it over with my buddy and we figured, Okay. It wouldn't be work in the purest sense of the word, and it wouldn't hurt anybody. So we put our knives back in our bag, pulled up a couple of chairs, and listened to the overtures to Tannhauser and The Flying Dutchman."

"And after that, you got your bread?"

"Right. Most of what he had in the shop. Stuffed it in our bag and took it home. Kept us fed for maybe four or five days." I took another sip. Like soundless waves from an undersea earthquake, my sleepiness gave my boat a long, slow rocking.

"Of course, we accomplished our mission. We got the bread. But you couldn't say we had committed a crime. It was more of an exchange. We listened to Wagner with him, and in return, we got our bread. Legally speaking, it was more like a commercial transaction."

"But listening to Wagner is not work," she said.

"Oh, no, absolutely not. If the baker had insisted that we wash his dishes or clean his windows or something, we would have turned him down. But he didn't. All he wanted from us was to listen to his Wagner LP from beginning to end. Nobody could have anticipated that. I mean—Wagner? It was like the baker put a curse on us. Now that I think of it, we should have refused. We should have threatened him with our knives and taken the damn bread. Then there wouldn't have been any problem."

"You had a problem?"

I rubbed my eyes again.

"Sort of. Nothing you could put your finger on. But things started to change after that. It was kind of a turning point. Like, I went back to the university, and I graduated, and I started working for the firm and studying the bar exam, and I met you and got married. I never did anything like that again. No more bakery attacks."

"That's it?"

"Yup, that's all there was to it." I drank the last of the beer. Now all six cans were gone. Six pull-tabs lay in the ashtray like scales from a mermaid.

Of course, it wasn't true that nothing had happened as a result of the bakery attack. There were plenty of things that you could have easily put your finger on, but I didn't want to talk about them with her.

"So, this friend of yours, what's he doing now?"

"I have no idea. Something happened, some nothing kind of thing, and we stopped hanging around together. I haven't seen him since. I don't know what he's doing."

For awhile, she didn't speak. She probably sensed that I wasn't telling her the whole story. But she wasn't ready to press me on it.

"Still," she said, "that's why you two broke up, isn't it? The bakery attack was the direct cause."

"Maybe so. I guess it was more intense than either of us realized. We talked about the relationship of bread to Wagner for days after that. We kept asking ourselves if we had made the right choice. We couldn't decide. Of course, if you look at it sensibly, we did make the right choice. Nobody got hurt. Everybody got what he wanted. The baker--I still can't figure out why he did what he did--but anyway, he succeeded with his Wagner propaganda. And we succeeded in stuffing our faces with bread.

"But even so, we had this feeling that we had made a terrible mistake. And somehow, this mistake has just stayed there, unresolved, casting a dark shadow on our lives. That's why I used the word 'curse.' It's true. It was like a curse."

"Do you think you still have it?"

I took the six pull-tabs from the ashtray and arranged them into an aluminum ring the size of a bracelet.

"Who knows? I don't know. I bet the world is full of curses. It's hard to tell which curse makes any one thing go wrong."

"That's not true." She looked right at me. "You can tell, if you think about it. And unless you, yourself, personally break the curse, it'll stick with you like a toothache. It'll torture you till you die. And not just you. Me, too."


"Well, I'm your best friend now, aren't I? Why do you think we're both so hungry? I never, ever, once in my life felt a hunger like this until I married you. Don't you think it's abnormal? Your curse is working on me, too."

I nodded. Then I broke up the ring of pull-tabs and put them back in the ashtray. I didn't know if she was right, but I did feel she was onto something.

The feeling of starvation was back, stronger than ever, and it was giving me a deep headache. Every twinge of my stomach was being transmitted to the core of my head by a clutch cable, as if my insides were equipped with all kinds of complicated machinery.

I took another look at my undersea volcano. The water was clearer than before--much clearer. Unless you looked closely, you might not even notice it was there. It felt as though the boat were floating in midair, with absolutely nothing to support it. I could see every little pebble on the bottom. All I had to do was reach out and touch them.

"We've only been living together for two weeks," she said, "but all this time I've been feeling some kind of weird presence." She looked directly into my eyes and brought her hands together on the tabletop, her fingers interlocking. "Of course, I didn't know it was a curse until now. This explains everything. You're under a curse."

"What kind of presence?"

"Like there's this heavy, dusty curtain that hasn't been washed for years, hanging down from the ceiling."

"Maybe it's not a curse. Maybe it's just me," I said, and smiled.
She did not smile.

"No, it's not you," she said.

"Okay, supposed you're right. Suppose it is a curse. What can I do about it?"

"Attack another bakery. Right away. Now. It's the only way."


"Yes. Now. While you're still hungry. You have to finish what you left unfinished."

"But it's the middle of the night. Would a bakery be open now?"

"We'll find one. Tokyo's a big cit
y. There must be at least one all-night bakery."

We got into my old Corolla and started drifting around the streets of Tokyo at 2:30 a.m., looking for a bakery. There we were, me clutching the steering wheel, she in the navigator's seat, the two of us scanning the street like hungry eagles in search of prey. Stretched out on the backseat, long and stiff as a dead fish, was a Remington automatic shotgun. Its shells rustled dryly in the pocket of my wife's windbreaker. We had two black ski masks in the glove compartment. Why my wife owned a shotgun, I had no idea. Or ski masks. Neither of us had ever skied. But she didn't explain and I didn't ask. Married life is weird, I felt.

Impeccably equipped, we were nevertheless unable to find an all-night bakery. I drove through the empty streets, from Yoyogi to Shinjuku, on to Yosuya and Akasaka, Aoyama, Hiroo, Roppongi, Daikanyama, and Shibuya. Late-night Tokyo had all k
inds of people and shops, but no bakeries.

Twice we encountered patrol cars. One was huddled at the side of the road, trying to look inconspicuous. The other slowly overtook us and crept past, finally moving off into the distance. Both times I grew damp under the arms, but my wife's concentration never faltered. She was looking for that bakery. Every time she shifted the angle of her body, the shotgun shells in her pocket rustled like buckwheat husks in an old-fashioned pillow.

"Let's forget it," I said. "There aren't any bakeries open at this time of night. You've got to plan for this kind of thing or else—"

"Stop the car!"

I slammed on the brakes.

"This is the place," she said.

The shops along the street had their shutters rolled down, forming dark, silent walls on either side. A barbershop sign hung in the dark like a twisted, chilling glass eye. There was a bright McDonald's hamburger sign some two hundred yards ahead, but nothing else.

"I don't see any bakery," I said.

Without a word, she opened the glove compartment and pulled out a roll of cloth-backed tape. Holding this, she stepped out of the car. I got out on my side. Kneeling at the front end, she tore off a length of tape and covered the numbers on the license plate. Then she went around to the back and did the same. There was a practiced efficiency to her movements. I stood on the curb staring at her.

"We're going to take that McDonald's," she said, as coolly as if she were announcing what we would have for dinner.

"McDonald's is not a bakery," I pointed out to her.

"It's like a bakery," she said. "Sometimes you have to compromise. Let's go."

I drove to the McDonald's and parked in the lot. She handed me the blanket-wrapped shotgun.

"I've never fired a gun in my life," I protested.

"You don't have to fire it. Just hold it. Okay? Do as I say. We walk right in, and as soon as they say, 'Welcome to McDonald's,' we slip on our masks. Got that?"

"Sure, but--"

"Then you shove the gun in their faces and make all the workers and customers get together. Fast. I'll do the rest."


"How many hamburgers do you think we'll need? Thirty?"

"I guess so." With a sigh, I took the shotgun and rolled back the blanket a little. The thing was as heavy as a sandbag and as black as a dark night.

"Do we really have to do this?" I asked, half to her and half to myself.

"Of course we do."

Wearing a McDonald's hat, the girl behind the counter flashed me a McDonald's smile and said, "Welcome to McDonald's." I hadn't thought that girls would work at McDonald's late at night, so the sight of her confused me for a second. But only for a second. I caught myself and pulled on the mask. Confronted with this suddenly masked duo, the girl gaped at us.

Obviously, the McDonald's hospitality manual said nothing about how do deal with a situation like this. She had been starting to form the phrase that comes after "Welcome to McDonald's," but her mouth seemed to stiffen and the words wouldn't come out. Even so, like a crescent moon in the dawn sky, the hint of a professional smile lingered at the edges of her lips.
As quickly as I could manage, I unwrapped the shotgun and aimed it in the direction of the tables, but the only customers there were a young couple--students, probably--and they were facedown on the plastic table, sound asleep. Their two heads and two strawberry-milk-shake cups were aligned on the table like an avant-garde sculpture. They slept the sleep of the dead. They didn't look likely to obstruct our operation, so I swung my shotgun back toward the counter.

All together, there were three McDonald's workers. The girl at the counter, the manager--a guy with a pale, egg-shaped face, probably in his late twenties--and a student type in the kitchen--a thin shadow of a guy with nothing on his face that you could read as an expression. They stood together behind the register, staring into the muzzle of my shotgun like tourists peering down an Incan well. No one screamed, and no one made a threatening move. The gun was so heavy I had to rest the barrel on top of the cash register, my finger on the trigger.

"I'll give you the money," said the manager, his voice hoarse. "They collected it at eleven, so we don't have too much, but you can have everything. We're insured."

"Lower the front shutter and turn off the sign," said my wife.

"Wait a minute," said the manager. "I can't do that. I'll be held responsible if I close up without permission."

My wife repeated her order, slowly. He seemed torn.

"You'd better do what she says," I warned him.

He looked at the muzzle of the gun atop the register, then at my wife, and then back at the gun. He finally resigned himself to the inevitable. He turned off the sign and hit a switch on an electrical panel that lowered the shutter. I kept my eye on him, worried that he might hit a burglar alarm, but apparently McDonald's don't have burglar alarms. Maybe it had never occurred to anybody to attack one.

The front shutter made a huge racket when it closed, like an empty bucket being smashed with a baseball bat, but the couple sleeping at their table was still out cold. Talk about a sound sleep: I hadn't seen anything like that in years.

"Thirty Big Macs. For takeout," said my wife.

"Let me just give you the money," pleaded the manager. "I'll give you more than you need. You can go buy food somewhere else. This is going to mess up my accounts and--"

"You'd better do what she says," I said again.

The three of them went into the kitchen area together and started making the thirty Big Macs. The student grilled the burgers, the manager put them in buns, and the girl wrapped them up. Nobody said a word.

I leaned against a big refrigerator, aiming the gun toward the griddle. The meat patties were lined up on the griddle like brown polka dots, sizzling. The sweet smell of grilling meat burrowed into every pore of my body like a swarm of microscopic bugs, dissolving into my blood and circulating to the farthest corners, then massing together inside my hermetically sealed hunger cavern, clinging to its pink walls.

A pile of white-wrapped burgers was growing nearby. I wanted to grab and tear into them, but I could not be certain that such an act would be consistent with our objective. I had to wait. In the hot kitchen area, I started sweating under my ski mask.

The McDonald's people sneaked glances at the muzzle of the shotgun. I scratched my ears with the little finger of my left hand. My ears always get itchy when I'm nervous. Jabbing my finger into an ear through the wool, I was making the gun barrel wobble up and down, which seemed to bother them. It couldn't have gone off accidentally, because I had the safety on, but they didn't know that and I wasn't about to tell them.
My wife counted the finished hamburgers and put them into two small shopping bags, fifteen burgers to a bag.

"Why do you have to do this?" the girl asked me. "Why don't you just take the money and buy something you like? What's the good of eating thirty Big Macs?"

I shook my head.

My wife explained, "We're sorry, really. But there weren't any bakeries open. If there had been, we would have attacked a bakery."

That seemed to satisfy them. At least they didn't ask any more questions. Then my wife ordered two large Cokes from the girl and paid for them.
"We're stealing bread, nothing else," she said. The girl responded with a complicated head movement, sort of like nodding and sort of like shaking. She was probably trying to do both at the same time. I thought I had some idea how she felt.

My wife then pulled a ball of twine from her pocket--she came equipped--and tied the three to a post as expertly as if she were sewing on buttons. She asked if the cord hurt, or if anyone wanted to go to the toilet, but no one said a word. I wrapped the gun in the blanket, she picked up the shopping bags, and out we went. The customers at the table were still asleep, like a couple of deep-sea fish. What would it have taken to rouse them from a sleep so deep?

We drove for a half hour, found an empty parking lot by a building, and pulled in. There we ate hamburgers and drank our Cokes. I sent six Big Macs down to the cavern of my stomach, and she ate four. That left twenty Big Macs in the back seat. Our hunger--that hunger that had felt as if it could go on forever--vanished as the dawn was breaking. The first light of the sun dyed the building's filthy walls purple and made a giant SONY BETA ad tower glow with painful intensity. Soon the whine of highway truck tires was joined by the chirping of birds. The American Armed Forces radio was playing cowboy music. We shared a cigarette. 

Afterward, she rested her head on my shoulder.

"Still was it really necessary for us. to do this?" I asked.

"Of course it was!" With one deep sigh, she fell asleep against me. She felt as soft and as light as a kitten.

Alone now, I leaned over the edge of my boat and looked down to the bottom of the sea. The volcano was gone. The water's calm surface reflected the blue of the sky. Little waves--like silk pajamas fluttering in a breeze--lapped against the side of the boat. There was nothing else.

I stretched out in the bottom of the boat and closed my eyes, waiting for the rising tide to carry me where I belonged.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Just Pretend This Is a YouTube Video.

Hey guuyys,

So, I'm really excited for the new year annnndd so one of my resolutions for 2016 is to start posting more on this blog! Sooo as always, if you have any requests for posts you'd like to see, like things that you're uncomfortable about and want to share, or more audio excerpts like this one, or really like anything you want to see, just hit me up in the comments below.

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OK guys so that's it for this post. Don't forget to click like and subscribe, I hope you have a great rest of the day, thanks so much for reading guys and I'll see you next time.


Monday, January 04, 2016

I'd Prefer to Go Back to My Regular Work-Anxiety Nightmares, Thanks.

I was standing in a glassed-in, white-carpeted office, having visited on business: an interview, maybe, or a project assignment. 

Two men nearby were chatting as I was about to leave. 

"Yeah, I've had this assignment for weeks and am still waiting for details so I can do the research."

"Ugh, I hate it when that happens. I'm in the exact same boat."

They were exchanging weary, smiling gripes about being freelance. I edged closer, pretending to study the scene outside the window, so I could hear more. I had to get going, but this would be useful information if I ever went independent. 

"Yeah, on the other hand though—just think if we were regular employees. Then we'd have to be here for the mass shooting."

As the man spoke I realized there had been a popping sound in the background: steady, methodical gunfire.

I looked around, but no one seemed to hear it. People continued to mill about the white carpet as if it were a cocktail party. The men wore suits, the women dresses. Like Mad Men

"Why is no one moving," I asked myself without a question mark, panic gripping my gut. The sounds, which happened to be quite like the New Year's fireworks that went off in the neighborhood the night before, slowly came closer. There was no way to get out now. I spotted a table to dive under—too high, too open and too near the door to offer much protection, but it was something. 

Then, heart pounding, I woke up.