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    Lifter (draft 0) (Fiction)

    “So?”

     

    “Huh?”

     

    “I said, ‘how long do you think we’ve been in here?’ and as usual, Marc, you appear to be somewhere else.”  She is known for being bitchy and self-centered, but I was unaware that she never turned it off.

     

    “Excuse the fuck out of me Pam, but I’m a little distracted right now.  Dan, you aren’t helping.”  Pam was sitting across from me, Dan in the corner to my left, and Nolan next to Pam.  Dan’s nervous tics — his fingers tapping on the toilet next to him, his heel tapping on the ground – became all too annoying all too quickly, and could have easily compromised our position.

     

    Nolan was always the most calm out of the four of us.  “Dude, seriously, you need to stop… Too much noise.  At least stop tapping.”

     

    “Sorry…”  Dan, on the other hand, was the least calm.  Even with his medication he never stopped moving.  Even though the tapping stopped, I could still see his knee bouncing in the dim light.  Hopefully expenditure of nervous energy will keep him from talking much.

     

    “Well?  How long do you think we’ve been in here?”  Pam repeated her question, shifting against the wall behind her.

     

    “I know you don’t have a watch, but you have a phone.”

     

    “Not on me.”

     

    “You guys have your phones?”  I asked Dan and Nolan, for multiple reasons.

     

    “I don’t carry mine with me around the office, too much of a leash.”  This was expected of Nolan.

     

    “Mine’s at my desk.”  This was not expected of Dan.  One would assume he had obsessive-compulsive personality disorder if they watched him for a couple of hours.  He usually kept his phone in sight, and checked it every few minutes, whether it rang or not.

     

    “Really?”

     

    “It’s dead so I left it to charge.”

     

    “Watches…?  Does anyone besides me wear a watch anymore?”  No one answered.  I pulled my phone from my left pocket and pressed a button to light it up.  “Around five minutes.”

     

    “That’s it?  Are you sure?  I haven’t heard anything in a while, you think it’s safe?  Should we check?” 

     

    “No.  No one stands up, no one raises their voice above a whisper, and no one opens that door until we know it’s safe.”  Instinctually, I waved my phone in front of me to make a point, not thinking about the fact that Pam probably couldn’t see the action.

     

    I would imagine that someone may be a little confused about the circumstances.  I should – we should have been packing up our belongings, walking through the lobby and heading home for the day.  Pam, a wife and mother, should have been on her way home to have dinner with her husband and two teenage boys.   Dan, nervous and troubled, should have been heading to his weekly Wednesday group therapy session.  Nolan, one of the most physically active people I know, should’ve been meeting his girlfriend at the gym for their nightly workout.  I should have been on the way to my Wednesday ritual, happy hour with a few friends and coworkers. 

     

    Instead of going about our days, instead of going about our personal business, we were sitting on a cold tile floor in a single use restroom, unlit save what crept underneath the door from the florescent bulbs in the hall.   As is our routine, we had our Wednesday afternoon meeting, lasting thirty minutes and adjourning at the end of the work day.  I never expected to hear screaming, crying and gunfire as we left the conference room to head back to our offices or cubicles.  I never expected to need to duck into a restroom and hide in the dark to save my life.  Everyone hears stories or sees things on the news and believes these things don’t exist in their world, or are so rare that they would never have to deal with them.  Out of all the workplaces that exist in the country it’s unlikely that most of the population will ever have to deal with ducking bullets at work.

     

    Yet, there we were, resting our arms on toilet seats and wondering when we were going back to our routines and hoping that we wouldn’t be discovered.

     

    No one spoke for a while.  There were no more sounds from within the restroom for at least ten more minutes, just the dim, muffled echoes of the distraught workers down the hall – bawling, screams, and pleas for help.  The walls were thin and devoid of insulation, put up quickly to meet the needs of a growing financial consulting firm.  The company had only opened its doors when I started six years ago, and at the time, the building consisted primarily of an open space, the remnants of a call center that outgrew it and had to move to a larger building.  I watched as the cubes were rearranged, walls were put up and the space was filled with offices, lobbies, conference and meeting rooms, required to satisfy the needs of both employees and clients. 

     

    The buildings three meeting rooms and the nearby restroom that we slid into were for employee use only.  This has less to do with leaving a private place for people to work, and had more to do with the unimpressive nature of the spaces.  The two conference rooms, named Chicago and London, are used for entertaining clients and potential business partners.  They are open and square, adorned with leather office furniture, imported conference tables, and LED monitors in lieu of projectors.  Large, insulated windows with electric shades provide ample natural lighting and a view of the mountains to the north.  The walls are pleasantly painted and accented with one-of-a-kind art, hand selected for us by a consultant flown to various galleries around the country.

     

    In contrast, the three private meeting rooms are dark, cramped and plain.  Between the rooms named Austin, Tacoma, and Omaha, only Austin has any form of natural lighting, emitting from a high corner window no larger than a passenger should expect on a 737. Not one has art or anything more than beige paint on the walls.  The tables are cheaply made with the edging sometimes peeling off and needing repair.  Although the work surfaces are generous, they give the feeling as if they were made to be in much larger rooms, sometimes requiring occupants to press themselves against the edge to allow others to pass behind.  With the larger, more impressive rooms reserved for entertaining outsiders and office-wide functions, we are forced to use these rooms for internal business. 

     

    Tacoma, the room we had just left, sits in the center of the building.  The only windows face a small corridor that lead to the bathroom we occupied, a supply closet, an office reserved for interns, and the other two meeting rooms.  There is no projector, but a 20” television mounted in the corner that provide satellite feeds from a station of your choosing, usually on Bloomberg or CNBC, and muted.   It is out of the way, and although it isn’t much to look at, it serves our needs.

     

    I checked my phone again, only to find missed calls and text messages from my sister, inquiring – with a sense of urgency – as to my state of being, seemingly well aware of what was transpiring at my workplace.

     

    “How did you know there was something going on?  Did someone call you?”  I asked.

     

    “I was flipping channels after I got home and I saw your building.  It’s national news.”  She responded.  “Where are you?  Are you okay?”

     

    “I’m in the building but I’m fine… uninjured.”

     

    “What’s going on?”  Nolan asked, seeing the moving glow from my phone.

     

    “My sister… I was just letting her know I was okay, apparently we’ve made national news.”

     

    “Can I borrow your phone for a –“ Nolan was interrupted by the sound of footsteps and yelling through the wall behind him.

     

    “Do not take me for a fucking idiot Shelly, stop dragging your feet, start talking, and make this easier for yourself.”  The voice was one I had never heard before, male and slightly raspy.

     

    “Damn it Frank, let go of me!”  Shelly was audibly struggling, her voice wavering as she tried to pull away.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

     

    “Open the door, do it now.”  Frank seemed collected as he made his command.

     

    “Do it your-fucking -self!”

     

    “I would, but if you hadn’t noticed I have the muzzle of a loaded gun pressed against your fucking temple!  Now open the goddamn door!”   His voice changed from collected to threatening, increasing volume in proportion.

     

    Dan stopped bouncing his knee momentarily, leaned over and whispered.  “Door?  Which door?”

     

    “How the hell am I supposed to know?” 

     

    A door slammed and the voices went dim. 

     

    Pam slid across the floor towards me. “Did you see anything – did you hear anything underneath the door?”

     

    I shook my head.

     

    “Marc…?”

     

    “Sorry Pam.  No… nothing.”  Still hearing faint voices and trying to make out what they were saying, my focus was elsewhere.

     

    “What is it?”

     

    By this time we had piqued the interest of the other two, who in turn huddled in with Pam and me.

     

    “Quiet.”  I tilted and turned my head, straightened my back and slowly stood up.  Each action made the conversation more audible.  I reached toward the wall behind me, feeling a vent just below the ceiling.

     

    Squatting down to the level of the rest, I informed them of my findings.  “There’s a vent.  I can hear them, but if we aren’t careful, they will sure as shit hear us.”

     

    I stood again to listen, this time with Pam in tow.  Nolan and Dan eventually scooting themselves back into their respective corners.

     

    “You… are going to think about what you’ve done… think about what you’re going to tell me about him.  I –“ Frank paused for a second, as if to collect his composure.  “I’ll be back.”

     

    Shelly was in a panic. “What – what are you going to do?”

     

    “I am going to get a few of your friends to join you, Shel.  I wouldn’t want you to get lonely.”

     

    Still standing next to me, with our ears toward the vent, Pam came closer “Where do you think he’s going?”

     

    “Pam, it isn’t obvious?  He’s going to collect hostages.”

     

    Frank disappeared for the next few minutes, leaving Shelly alone.  She didn’t speak, but her sporadic sobbing let us know he had left her behind, assumedly bound or prevented from leaving in some manner.  One by one, both men and women were forced to join Shelly, six in all.  Occasionally they were defiant, but it never lasted long.

     

    “Behave young lady, and you will get to go home tonight.”  Frank said to one captive as the separating of tape from its roll echoed through the vents.  To his credit, his cool demeanor kept the hostages docile and easy to manipulate.  “Misbehave and you’ll end up like those guards out there.”

     

    The words varied slightly, but the situation repeated itself until the last of the six was bound and gagged.  “You know how women can be… well… you know.”  The longer the situation dragged out, the more cold and even jocular he became, raising his voice and making threats only when necessary.

     

    A few minutes went by before anything else was said.  “What is this all about, Frank?”  Shelly’s voice seemed empty, as if she had no more to give.

     

    “I want all of you to know… it isn’t your fault that you are here ladies and gentlemen.”  Frank’s voice began to project as if he was addressing a crowd, carrying through the vent and quite literally forcing Dan and Nolan to sit up and take notice.  “This is her fault, this is all her fault.  Now, she can redeem herself and save her own life if she begins to talk.”

     

    “Why are they here?  If all you want is me then let them go… please.”

     

    “They are here for insurance purposes, so no one tries to walk through the door and shoot me before my business is done here.  Now, are you going to talk, or am I going to have to kill you?”

     

    Shelly was seemingly as confused as the four of us in the restroom.  “What do you want, Frank?”

     

    “You … you tossed me out, and then within a few weeks you started seeing someone else.  Who is he?  Where is he?”

     

    “I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Shelly stammered, it was a tell.

     

    “You see, I pay attention… I know where you live and I’ve driven by.  I don’t know what he looks like, I don’t know his name, but I know he’s here.  He has the same blue parking sticker on his windshield that you have for work, now… what’s his name?  Where is he?”

     

    There was no response.

     

    “You want to stonewall me, okay, well fine.  I have other ways of getting information.  Nobody… goes… anywhere.”

     

    The vent went silent again, giving Pam and me time to assess the situation and relay it to the other two.

     

    “This is all because of some jealous ex-boyfriend?  People are dying because some asshole won’t move on?”  Dan’s worldview forces him to expect meaning in life when there is often very little. “Where are they now?”

     

    “Most likely Tacoma.” Although he hadn’t been listening through the vent, Nolan interjected.  “No outside windows, plenty of space for hostages, no way to sneak into or past the room without being seen – that’s where I would be if I were him.  Besides, I have yet to see any feet below the door, there is no way they are in either of the two meeting rooms.”

     

     “It’s speculation, but I’ll bite.”  I went from squatting back to sitting on the floor.  “You work here Nolan, you know this place.  What makes you think he would know to pick that room?”

     

    “Pam, how often does your husband or one of your sons visit you here?”

     

    “Uh, I don’t know… probably once or twice a month.”

     

    “And have you ever shown them around the place?”

     

    “Well yeah…”

     

    “Marc, if Shelly and Frank used to date then dollars to doughnuts says that he’s been here and knows damn well where the meeting rooms are.”

     

    “You’re speculating Nolan – “

     

    “Possibly, but you have a better hypothesis?”

     

    It was then out of the corner of my eye, in the dim light, I noticed Dan’s knee had stopped bouncing nervously.  Just as had concerned me since the situation started a little over an hour ago, Dan was primed to speak.  Although he preferred to call it ‘realism’ or ‘pragmatism’, Dan’s persistent negativity is the cause of his divorce and the loss of more than a couple of clients.

     

    “Nolan, Marc… it’s all moot.  You’re arguing over what goddamn room their in…?  We have bigger problems…”  Dan paused for a second, and then mumbled.  “We’re all going to die in here.”

     

    Pam’s voice tensed up.  “What bigger problems?”

     

    “Between Frank, Shelly and six hostages, there are now eight people in whatever fucking room their in.”

     

    “So…?”

     

    “Are you oblivious Pam?  We are in a fucking bathroom — the closest bathroom to any of the meeting rooms.  It’s only a matter of time before one of them has to go, and you know he’s not going to let them go alone.”  Dan took a second to breathe.  “We are all going to fucking die in here.”

     

    “Don’t think I haven’t thought of that, Dan.”  The truth was that I hadn’t thought about it, but I had to say something to bring him down.  “The door is locked.”

     

    “Yeah, I’m sure that’s going to stop him – “

     

    “You want to get out?  You want to run and hide, huh?”  I had tolerated just about enough.  “We have nowhere to go.  If we leave, he will see us and shoot us. “

     

    “What if he opens that door, Marc-?”

     

    “What if he burns the place down, Dan?”

     

    Defeated, slow and sullen, he responded. “I… I don’t know…”

     

    “If you want to sit here and worry about every scenario, then be my guest, but it doesn’t change a damn thing.  We are here now, and we will cross that bridge if we get there.  Besides… we aren’t getting anywhere with this bickering.”

     

    I’m not sure whether I had embarrassed him or just belittled him, but his response – or lack thereof – was immediate.  Although the short diatribe wasn’t enough to get him calm, it was enough to keep his mood from escalating.  He returned to bouncing his right knee and breathing audibly.  Dan, although more than competent at his position, was known throughout the office for his panic attacks, especially during meetings with bigger clients.  Nolan and I have played the roles of caretaker and have, on multiple occasions, pulled the man out of various hiding spots after running out of meetings.

    All things considered, I think that Dan took the fact that there was a roving spree killer on the other side of a wall and a sheet of glass rather well.  As his supervisor, I’m happy when he doesn’t vomit under stress.  I think he started taking meds recently.

     

    “Where the fuck is your phone, Shelly?” Frank was back, this time minus the cool demeanor and loud enough to hear through the vent without standing directly below.  I moved back into position nonetheless, this time with Nolan beside me and Pam back on the floor next to the sink.

     

    “I forgot it this morning… I left it at home.”

     

    Trying to lighten the mood, if only for a second, I whispered to Nolan, “Did I miss a memo?  Was I supposed to not have my phone on me today?”  Nolan never responded.

     

    “You forgot it?  Okay well… I’m going to make you a deal Shel.”  Frank seemed to be losing control of his emotions, and was making it clear that he had failed to plan for all contingencies.  “You’re going to give me the name of this new beau of yours; you’re going to tell me where his office is… You’re going to watch him die, then you’re going to watch me die.”

     

    “The hell I am!”  Shelly collected herself long enough to show the first signs of outward defiance, but like with the others, it didn’t last long.

     

    I could hear the crooked smile beneath Frank’s voice, “I already know I’m not leaving this place, what makes you think that you get to?”  He paused, almost as to let her contemplate the statement.  “I’ll give you… ten minutes to think about it.”

     

    Nolan and I dropped back to floor level.  “He’s going to shoot her if she doesn’t give her a name.”  Nolan explained to the others.

     

    “Thanks, we got that.” Pam came closer to me.  “So… what are we going to do?  We have to do something, right?”

     

    In the dim light I could still see enough of an expression on Nolan’s face to know that he was thinking what I was thinking.  “Do what, pray tell?  Chase down and disarm someone who has already shot and killed our coworkers?”

     

    “We can’t just sit here…“ Pam turned toward me looking for someone to join her cause.  “Marc… he can’t take all of us…”

     

    “You want to be the first one out that door, Pam?”

     

    It took a few seconds, but she finally, reluctantly responded “No.”

     

    “Nolan and I are in agreement, and I already know what Dan’s thinking – “

     

    Dan interjected.  “We stay here.”

     

    “We stay here.  We keep our mouths shut.  We stay alive.”

     

    The four of us stayed silent – Nolan and I standing next to the vent; Dan taken to pacing, cutting the small room in half; Pam sitting next to the sink again, sobbing quietly.  I took phone numbers from the other three, letting someone know that they were okay.  We waited.

     

    Ten minutes past, and true to his word, Frank was back to settle the dispute. “Name, Shel.”

     

    Oddly enough, her response wasn’t a name, it wasn’t crying, it was laughter.  “And you wonder why I dumped your ass – “

     

    “Name, Shelly!”

     

    As Frank began to lose patience, Shelly’s laughing became more boisterous.  “You don’t have the fucking balls to kill me.  You don’t want to see me dead; you want to see me suffer.”

     

    After a few seconds of nothing, Frank spoke, again collected.  “You’re right.  I can’t kill you.  I may want you to suffer, but I love you.”

     

    I sighed, lowered my head, buried it into my hands, and rubbed my face.  I felt a rush of relief that could only come from realizing that you hadn’t condemned even more people to death.  The moment, and the relief, was short lived.

     

    “Her however,” Frank continued “I don’t care so much about her.”

     

    The gun fired once, forcing the four of us to jump in place.  Nolan and I crouched and covered our heads.  Dan stood petrified.  Pam whipped her head audibly into the nearby sink.  It wasn’t so much as a reaction to danger as it was a reaction to a noise that would have been deafening if not for the wall and glass between us and the gun.  It was sudden enough to make me forget for moment that a hostage had just died.  Had we known what was to happen next we would have hit the floor instead of simply ducking.

     

    “Is it not enough for you that I walk in shooting?”  Frank was now loud enough for his voice to be heard without effort.  “Huh, Shel?  Are you going to do what you’re fucking told now?”

     

     Shelly yelled, but it was already too late.  “Frank…!”

     

    We hadn’t moved.  Nolan and I still crouched, Dan still stood, and Pam still sat.   The second shot was accompanied by a number of sounds.  Glass was shattered, Shelly screamed indistinctly, and Dan gasped as soon as the bullet pierced the wall behind him and entered his back.  Immediately, and violently, he fell to his knees as his torso fell back.  The noises that he started making could be best described as labored coughs and wheezes.  They were loud enough to catch the attention of a passerby, but not loud enough to draw attention from Shelly’s bawling.

     

    I crouched over Dan with Nolan standing beside me.  “I know this hurts, but I need you – we need you to try to be quiet.”  I propped Dan up against the toilet and covered his mouth with my right hand as I felt for the wound with my left.  The now muffled wheezing turned into heavy gurgling as I started to feel bubbles coming from his mouth.  Soon after, the coughing increased, and Dan became increasingly harder to control.  I could feel the other two nearby, listening more than watching, passive as the situation played itself out.

     

    “You think you could gimme a hand here, Nolan?” I waited a second or two and received no response.  “Nolan!  Grab his-!”  Before I had a chance to finish my sentence, I felt a hand grab my wrist.  Dan pulled my hand from his mouth for a heartbeat, but it was enough to get out a weak scream and a gasp.

     

    “Nolan, goddamn you-“Another hand on my wrist, this time it was Nolan’s.

     

    In the dim light, I could see him start to forcibly shove a length of cloth into Dan’s mouth, assumedly a tie.  “What the fuck are you doing?”  I tried slapping his hand away.

     

    “Just hold him, Marc.” 

     

    “You’re going to choke him-“

     

    “We don’t have a lot of options,” Nolan continued to gag Dan, “unless you recently got a medical degree there ain’t a whole lot you are going to be able to do for him.”

     

    “He’ll be fine!”

     

    Nolan paused, “He’s already dead!  We let him go – alone – or he takes us with him.”

     

    I could have stopped him, but I knew – at least I felt – that he was right, even if it was just at that moment.  I stopped talking, kept Dan from moving as much as possible, and began to silently weep.  With the job finished, Nolan sat back and took in an audible breath.

     

    “Marc… I just want to go home.  I just want to get back to my fiancée.”

     

    I said nothing.  I just held.  Held Dan’s arms down as he slowly stopped struggling, held back my tears the best that I could, held on to the notion that I was allowing this to happen to save the rest of our lives.  I didn’t believe it, but I tried to tell myself that we were doing the right thing.

     

    He went still.

     

    No sooner than I sat back, we heard footsteps and saw shadows peek under the door.  I quickly came to my feet, readying myself.  The feet stopped, the door handle shook, and Shelly’s voice came echoing through the vents again. “Frank!  I’ll talk… Please just… please…”

     

    “Motherfucker…” Frank’s voice came through the door, and then faded, “Who is he?”

     

    “Sean… his name is Sean Davis.”

     

    “And where is Sean?”  Frank waited a few seconds, but didn’t get a response.  “Where is Sean?”

     

    “The corridor to his office is right next to the reception desk.”

    “You… stay… We’ll be back.”

     

    I found my way back to the corner, took my place beside the toilet again and sighed, “At least Davis is in Miami—“

     

    Pam broke her silence, “No… no…”  There were tears in her voice, “he came back early, he’s here today…”

     

    I stopped and let myself think for a moment.  I let Nolan’s words replay themselves in my head, ‘I just want to go home.’  I thought about the fact that I am – we all are — as vulnerable to bullets as Dan was.  Would Nolan have shoved a tie down my throat to silence me?  Would Dan have stuffed Nolan’s mouth to silence him?

     

    ‘…I just want to get back to my fiancée’.  I thought about my girlfriend – our first date; the first time we made love; road trips; the pranks we play on each other; planning our happily ever after together; her warm breath on my neck as I held her in the dark and she sang to me.  I took my phone out and sent her one last text, just in case.

     

    “Regardless of what happens I will always have the way you make me feel.  No one can take that.  I love you.” I slumped and began sobbing, about ready to vomit.

     

    “What time is it?” Pam waited.  “Marc… what time is it?”

     

    I wiped the tears from my face, “Seven-twelve.”

     

    “Did you not hear me?”

     

    “I… I heard you Pam,” I sat upright again; “I just had something on my mind.”

     

    “Your boyfriend here appears to be a coward Shel!” Frank bellowed down the hall, “He called you a lying bitch.  Personally, I agree, but I took the liberty of taping his mouth shut anyway.”

     

    A dull thud resonated, the sound of a mass hitting a wall.  “Last chance, hon.  Is it him?”

     

    “I’m so sorry Sean,” she took a second to breathe, “yes.”

     

    The amber glow emanating from the crack beneath the door dissipated and the room went black. “We are going to want to lie down, the allies are about to storm the beach.”

     

    Knowing there would be questions as to Dan’s demise, I gave Nolan an order, “pull the tie out of his throat and put it in the toilet.”  He acted immediately, and we all dropped to our stomachs.

     

    “It looks like we are running out of time.  Sorry Sean, no hard feelings, this is about her.”  Two more gunshots and more screaming followed. I pulled the handle on the toilet.

     

    “What the fuck was…“ Frank was cut off by a new voice.

     

    “Drop the weapon!”

    A single shot was followed by a cluster of shots, and then a few seconds passed, “All clear!”

     

    After being escorted out of the building – after being questioned by the police and being examined by a doctor, I got into my car and drove home.  I didn’t talk to anyone.  I didn’t get on the phone; I sent no texts or emails; I just shook and drove.  I needed some time.

     

    After standing under the shower until the water went cold, I dried myself off and assured everyone via the internet, that I was in fact alive, then sent a single text, “I need to see you.”

     

    I walked through the glass-paneled door and she greeted me with a half-smile, “My god, Marc,” she paused and sniffled, “you look like toasted shit.”

     

    We both forced a laugh out, but she looked no better.  Her eyes were bloodshot, her hair was a mess, and she too was shaking, “have you seen yourself, dear?”

     

    “I’m so sorry Marc, I thought – “

     

    “Just come here, let me hold you.”  We embraced each other, and the same thoughts that made me nauseous only a couple hours before filled me with joy.  Her tears hit my neck and I began to cry.

     

    “Marc…” she pulled her head away from my neck to look me in the eyes, and then gave me a kiss, “I love you.”

     

    I pulled her forehead to my face and kissed it, “I love you too, Shelly.”   

    Obscura

    “Do you believe that dreams have inherent meanings?”  I sat back in my chair, turned to my right, and plunged the dispenser to the hand sanitizer that sat at the desk beside me, pouring it into my hand.

    “Well… sure. “  My therapist said, seemingly confused about where exactly I was going with the statement.

    “I’m not talking about any sort of bullshit metaphysical meaning,” I rubbed the sanitizer on my hands while I glossed over the books on her bookshelf, some of which have become part of my own.  “I mean… do you think that they might give some sort of insight as to how your brain is functioning, or as to the things that are on your mind?”

    “I wasn’t talking metaphysical – “

    “I’m not talking in the Freudian symbology sense either.  Freud was a hack.”  I sat back in my chair and crossed my legs, now scanning the postings on the wall behind her, still feeling rather uncomfortable looking in her eyes.

    “Well, what do you mean then?”

    “I feel like I’ve been all over the place lately, I can’t focus, I’ve had a hard time writing, staying on task, I’ve been flaky and well… disjoined.”

    “And you feel that your dreams have been a reflection of that?”

    “I don’t know where my mind is half the time.  The other night I had this dream… I was riding my motorcycle around the outskirts of town, when I happened across a junkyard slash swap meet.  Upon my arrival, the owner of the lot, Tanya Harding, emerged from her RV to greet me as a customer.  I happened to pull some pieces of scrap metal and a few toys – one of which was a space shuttle – out of the pocket of my jacket, and handed them to her.  In exchange, she offered me a slightly beat up, but still functioning snowmobile.  I feel like I got the better end of the deal.”

    My therapist cocked her head slightly and snickered.  “Interesting…”

    “And this… this is where it gets weird.”  I said, leaning in and shaking my hands in front of my face.  “I couldn’t actually ride the snowmobile, being that there was no snow on the ground, so I agree to pick up the vehicle later, jump back on my motorcycle and head off.  I make a left hand turn to head north – don’t ask me how, but I knew it was north – and end up dropping my bike on the pavement, skinning and breaking my leg in the process.”

    I stopped to catch my breath, and she shuffled in her chair.

    “This is a big problem for me, considering I play football for the New York Jets, and was headed to the first day of training camp.”

    “I didn’t think you watched football.”

    “I haven’t watched football since the nineties, but in any case… I show up to practice on crutches with my leg in a cast, gimping onto the field, as teammates are holding gates open for me and another player who is in a similar predicament.  Angrily, the team’s GM takes us aside and rewrites our contracts to include clauses that we were no longer to participate in dangerous activities like riding motorcycles, or in the other injured team member’s case, skydiving.  ‘Now we have to simulate the damn season without you.’ He says, then proceeds to put a copy of Madden NFL into a game console of some kind, and begins to run the simulation, which occurs not on a TV, but on what could be best described as a life-size foosball table, complete with large metal poles going through the players.”

    Again I stop to breathe.

    “So my family shows up out of nowhere – and I use the term family loosely because I had never seen any of them before, and they were all white – my family shows up in this large white Excursion-like vehicle, saying that we should go on a road trip of some kind.  I jump into the front seat, and we immediately start driving across a bridge, but the deck beneath us gives out and we end up crashing onto the train deck below.”

    “Is that it?  Is that the whole dream?”

    “Not quite.  Someone in my family, I’m not sure who, but someone says ‘Fuck it, we’ll just take the train’, so we abandon the SUV and find a nearby high speed elevator that goes directly to the terminal.  It seemed more like a roller coaster ride though, the carriage was open, and there were metal chest restraints that secured the riders.  Below my feet was a large flashing button that said TOT on it, which a younger member of my family pushed, dropping the restraint to child height.  We get to the station, and apparently already have our tickets, because each one of us starts fumbling in our pockets for them.  One by one, we find our tickets and jump on the train, with the last one barely getting on before the wheels start rolling.”

    My therapist snickers again.  “What happens after that?”

    “That’s it, I woke up.”

    After jotting a few things down in the notebook on her lap, she looks up and asks, “Have they always been like this?”

    “Been like what?  Random?  Devoid of any sort of specific plot?  They have always, always been obscure, but they have never been quite so incoherent.”

    “Was it just this one?  Have there been others?”

    “A couple…”  I sit back, uncross my legs, and start letting my right leg bounce, this time staring at the tiled ceiling of the windowless room.  “Last week, I was dreaming that I was being man-stalked by the guy from MacGruber and a few of his friends.”

    “Will Forte?”

    “Sure, I guess… In any case, I jump in a truck to get away from the dude, and he somehow gets into the front seat and starts driving.  He start’s tear-assing through Flagstaff and slams into the back of a small red sedan, sending the truck flying, flipping end over end.  He pulls the lever on the e-brake, which stops the vehicle in mid-air, to which I respond ‘this is the stupidest movie ever’.”
    “You were in a movie?”

    I nod once.  “Yep.”

    “You thought you were in a movie?  Why?”

    “Besides the bad special effects, it makes sense at the end.  In any case – “  I took a drink from the chai latte that came into the office with me.  “In any case, I somehow get away from these guys, find a pay phone in front of Bed Bath and Beyond, call the cops, have them arrested, and place a restraining order on them.  In the final scene, I enjoy the evening of Christmas Eve with my wife Kate Beckinsale, the camera rolls out of the front window to show a snowy, New England night.  Cue music, roll credits.”

    “Roll credits?”

    “There were credits in my dream.”

    “What are your dreams normally like?”

    “As opposed to what they have been like recently?”

    “Yes.”

    “Much shorter, much more coherent… still very odd.”

    “Any examples?”

    My knee still bouncing, I crack my neck and start spinning my rings. 

    “A few years ago, I was dating this girl and I dreamt that the two of us had flown to India together on vacation.  We walked out of the airport, and on the sidewalk in front of the airport, there was a large group gathered around this guy who was screwing around with this snake… you know, kind of like the things you see on the travel shows or on Tru TV.  In any case, we pushed our way through the crowd to get to the front, and all of a sudden, the snake struck and bit my leg.  The handler starts freaking out, saying ‘We have to get you to the hospital; we have to get you to the hospital!’  I respond with ‘Why?  What kind of snake is it?’ and he says, ‘It’s a bombsnake!  Your leg is going to explode if it’s not treated!’  So they threw me into the back of an ambulance, and started driving to the hospital, all the while driving over hills, causing my head to collide with the ceiling.”

    “Well, I can see what you mean.  The randomness, the inability to focus, the lack of coherency in your thoughts… it shows in your dreams, especially as of late.”  She looked down and took some more notes.  “Tell me, how often are they influenced by things you experience day to day?”

    “Rarely.  I read a book once that consisted entirely of black box recordings from aircraft accidents, and I started dreaming of planes falling out of the sky.  On occasion, if I fall asleep with the TV on, I start dreaming about whatever I happen to hear when I’m asleep – heater-building Amish, hits from the ‘60s, things like that.  I’ll even sometimes mix things.  I once had to run from a T-Rex with missile launchers and Gatling guns.”

    “Discovery channel?”

    “Yep.”

    “Have any of your dreams been reoccurring?”

    The question made me noticeably anxious, and I almost winced, facing the wall to my left and finding it harder to look her in the eye.

    “Well! I think we hit a sore spot!  And dollars to doughnuts says I know what they are about.  They’re - “

    “Yeah, I know you know.”  I interrupt her before she can finish what we both know is coming.

    “Do you want to talk about them?”

    I turn my head back toward her, “No, not really.  Not right now.”

    “Fair enough.”

    There was an awkward moment of silence, caused by a therapist knowing that her patient is hiding parts of his life from her.  She tried to draw me out, hoping that I would end the silence.   As is my modus operandi, I change the subject.

    “I had a dream last night that I was hanging out with a turkey.”

    “Hanging out?”

    “Hanging out… you know… going to the mall, running errands, going to lunch with friends.  We made sure not to order any sort of fowl at lunch as not to upset him.”

    She smirked, covered her face and tried to conceal her laughter.

    “I’ve seen that look before, you think I’m crazy!”

    “It means no such thing!  You’re just like everyone else.”

    “What does it mean then?”

    “It means… our time is up.”

    She walked me to the front door and saw me out of the office.  “Until Monday, then?”

    “Until Monday.”

    Jake's Guide to People Watching

    Ladies and gentlemen, I am – if anything – a student of human nature.  I am an observer, picking through the pile of crap that most people call their lives, looking for the scraps of humanity, and then showing them to be absurd and trite.  Everyone gets caught up in the day-to-day trappings of money and material possessions.  Everyone makes mistakes and forgets their priorities or sense of propriety. 

    Our humanity isn’t merely a function of what we are capable of, but also a reflection of our failures.  We are excitable, jealous, and prone to mistakes.  We are confrontational and will rarely admit that we are wrong.  We revel in our excesses, wearing them on our shoulders as monuments to our sins.

    Like most, I am a people watcher.  It’s been said by others before, but if you want to get a good feel for who people are, you have to see them when they think no one is looking.  Some enjoy sitting on a park bench, watching from afar as a man in his late forties to early fifties stands beside his red Corvette, tossing a baseball into the nearby grass for his retriever to retrieve, while country music blares from his car.  On the pathway around a lake are a man and a woman, well past retirement, hand-in-hand and smiling.  At a picnic table sits a young woman alone, engrossed in her copy of Jane Eyre, holding it with both hands only a few inches from her face.  She only removes a hand to remove her long, brown hair from her eyes, completely unaware that there is a world around her.

    These are exactly the type of observances I avoid, and I do so for three very specific reasons, the most practical of which being that I live in the Valley of the Sun, and six months out of the year it is too goddamn hot to be in a park observing anyone.  Phoenicians have the tendency to laugh at the national news in the summer months when reports of record-breaking temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s on the East Coast.  Sure, the humidity may push the heat index to 105, but there is no way to make 122 degrees feel like anything less than 122 degrees.

    Second, I feel that these moments have been beaten to death by every other writer.  Everyone who writes, hell everyone who thinks that they can write, tries to make portraits out of words.  They try to capture the beauty in blah blah blah.  Personally, I think if anything, most people take their lives and life in general entirely too seriously.  While I wouldn’t consider my writing to be literature, I would consider it – and my viewpoint – to be unique in many ways.

    While I think people are ‘honest’, to a certain degree, when they think no one is looking, an outside observer can do nothing but speculate as to the thoughts of the observed.  I find that if you truly want people to be honest, if you truly want to know what is on someone’s mind, you have to see them pissed off.  For this reason, I prefer to observe others at occasions where there is a high likelihood of an argument or a fight.

    Bars and clubs are a good place to start.  If you want to see something interesting happen there’s no better mixture of douchebags, skanks, and truth-inducing, inhibition-dropping alcohol.  Dollar for dollar, nothing is more fun than watching from afar as a man in his early forties tries to pull his girlfriend away as she throws up on his red Corvette.  Granted, the woo people are annoying, as are the college age kids, but it’s worth it to see someone act a fool and start calling his friend’s wife a slurry of things I won’t even repeat in this blog.  Fun times.

    If you’re a fan of watching children being yelled at, nothing beats a place of worship or any other event where a certain behavior is expected.  Here I have as much personal experience as observational experience, being a recovering Catholic and having been personally dragged out of church on multiple occasions for snoring or laughing uncontrollably.  On any given day, a child is damned to hell, ruins their aunt’s wedding, or makes Jesus cry – that is, at least, according to some parents.

    An odd choice, but a good one nonetheless is your local Denny’s.  Yes, I have said that Denny’s is the dining equivalent of Wal-Mart, but it also seems to be the rallying point for drunkards, movie-goers, the uneducated, nerds and cheap bastards alike.  The place is a buffet for the people watcher.  There is the couple in the booth arguing about her drinking problem, the film students arguing the merits of Michael Bay’s cinematography (not that there are any), and the group of ten – all drunk – claiming they didn’t get the sandwich and leaving the designated driver with a $200 bill.

    For those who are willing to take the scraps of failed marriages and use them as material in your blogs, there is always the option of sitting in front of the office of a relationship counselor.  No one and I mean no one is more honest than a married man or woman at the bitter end.   He storms out first, her trailing far behind, almost as if he plans on leaving her there.  She follows; looking a little concerned, but oddly, has a smug look on her face.

    “I can’t believe you brought that up!  You just had to bring it up didn’t you?”  He yells over his shoulder, just before he turns and lets her catch up.

    “If this process is going to work, we need to be honest with him.  Besides, if you look back at the whole thing objectively… well, it was kind of funny.”  She does her best to lighten the mood, playing it off.

    “The whole goddamn thing was embarrassing as hell!  This is the problem Mary, you can’t respect that not everything is everyone’s busi – Hey!  You!  Are you taking down our conversation?”

    There are a few caveats about taking out your Moleskin and sticking your nose into other peoples’ fights.  Don’t let them see you, or you might end up getting that nose of your’s broken.

    Oh, and one more thing, make sure you have insurance.

    The Deep End

    Unlike most men at my age, whatever that might be, I am not a big TV watcher.  I don’t have satellite, cable or a DVR.  Any show that I may have an interest in watching can be obtained through the internet, via various sources, or on DVD.  Anything that I watch on my TV usually comes from the Xbox or the Blu-Ray player, but unfortunately both my Xboxes are being repaired at the moment, Blu-Ray DVDs are still around $30 a pop, and I have had an extremely difficult time getting to sleep lately.


    Working out takes an hour of my evening after getting off of work, but usually wakes me up right before trying to sleep.  Reading and listening to some quiet music in bed is effective about half of the time, but doesn’t make for particularly interesting writing.  I have, as of late, found myself browsing late night broadcast television stations, circling the channels repeatedly until I fall asleep.  It’s rare that I will leave the television on one channel for more than a couple of minutes, partially due to a lack of anything interesting to watch, but mostly due to my complete lack of an attention span.


    So there I am with my chin in my left hand, my left elbow on the arm of the couch, my feet on the coffee table, and the remote in my right hand.  The remote is perpetually aimed at the television, and my right thumb is perpetually on the channel changer.  A few of the national broadcast channels have standard fare.  Invariably, they are showing infomercials or local news.  The infomercials are always for the same workout routines and skin or hair care products.  A couple of nights and one could have them memorized.


    The local news is always the same, especially here in the valley.  Blah blah blah shot, blah blah blah stabbed, blah blah missing, blah blah blah Mexicans, and now Steve with the weather.  Steve (because I don’t know his real name) has the easiest job in the known universe — meteorologist in Phoenix.  Around here, especially in the summer, you know what he’s going to say.


    “It’s going to be a hot one tomorrow, Dan!”


    Click


    On PBS is usually either a local talk show or the New Yankee Workshop.  Late night talk shows make sense, you would expect that at three in the morning, but who the hell is watching a carpentry show at this hour (besides me, obviously)?  Don’t get me wrong, Norm Abram is a bad ass, but couldn’t they put his show in a slot that might be more friendly to woodworking, say 10 A.M.?  It’s not like I am planning on making anything he builds on the show — he is a master carpenter with a workshop (like the name states), I have a hammer and a spare bedroom.  Norm Abrams makes me feel like less of a man.


    Click


    ABC has as part of their late night lineup, out of all things, America’s Funniest Home Videos, or as I like to call it “The Show That Time Forgot”.  Everyone who as ever hung out in a large group has met that guy.  You know the one, the guy who once said something that got everyone in the group to laugh out loud, then goes on to shoehorn it into every possible situation, trying to get the same response, until someone in the group threatens his life with a tire iron.  ABC, do you honestly think we need twenty (yes, twenty) seasons of people getting hit in the genitalia, kids saying stupid things, and cute pets.  There is a whole new venue for pointless video that has come along since this show started, and it’s called the internet.


    Click


    One channel, or set of channels in particular, brings us Canadians cooking (which isn’t as interesting as you would think it would be), and trying to renovate a loft with things that they found on the side of the road or a junkyard (which is more entertaining than it sounds).  I’m not sure what the name is, or who the girl is, but there is a pointy-nosed blonde who is dressed like she is going on a date, making gluten-free cookies in her fake kitchen.  It’s hard to tell if she has any experience on camera, because even though it looks like she knows what she is doing, she still walks and talks like a junior high drama student who just stepped on the stage for the first time, choppy and monotone.


    I will admit, they are a guilty pleasure of mine, I love shows that give a crew a premise, a budget, a deadline, and a house to redecorate.  It is a recipe for disaster, especially when the hard-headed crew leader blows up at the underlings who aren’t pulling their own weight or whose work is sub par.  This show in particular tasks a group of wasteful construction workers and designers to work with a group of recyclers to renovate a space with only two grand and whatever they can get used for free.  For some reason, I always tune into this one when someone is on the verge of tears, either male or female.  Some shows have explosions, this one has implosions.


    Click


    Half of the broadcast channels in the Phoenix area, either television or radio, fit under one of three categories.  As to be expected, the massive Hispanic population makes it necessary for there to be Spanish language channels.  I don’t find it particularly useful to watch these channels, not just because I don’t know a word of Spanish, but because even if I did, I don’t think it would make the shows any less confusing.


    Being that we are in a red state, there are a lot of Christian channels in the area.  I could write a whole blog about why I wont watch these.  Occasionally they do give me a chuckle or two, but more often than not, they just make me lose faith in humanity.


    Of course, there are the Spanish Christian channels, which well… I can’t begin to wrap my head around.  The only reasons I can assume what they are talking about are the visual references.  It’s not surprising that stations of this kind would do well though, considering the demographic.


    Click


    Unfortunately, my television always ends up on the same channel at the end of the night.  You would think that I would be more content to watch the local news or even an infomercial, but I always end up watching (sigh) children’s cartoons in the early hours of the morning.  Let me be more clear, if only to make you laugh and further embarrass myself.  With the exception of one show, I am not talking about the action-packed, thrill ride cartoons that we all grew up watching as kids.  I’m not talking about G.I. Joe or Transformers.  I am talking about cartoons made for preschoolers, children who are just learning to read.  The characters on some of these shows don’t even use words, as not to confuse the tender audience.


    One of the shows, one of my favorites, is about a sexually ambiguous mouse who always wears overalls, and is nearly the size of her elephant friend.  Her name and the names of all of the other animals on the show are alliterations of what they are — Maisy the mouse, Charlie the crocodile, Eddie the elephant, Cyril the squirrel — which leads me to ask the question, what the fuck is Tallulah?  She looks like a duck of some kind, webbed feet, bill and all, but Tallulah doesn’t sound like duck… not even remotely.  The socio-economic system of their world baffles and makes me jealous simultaneously.  While Maisy appears to have no verbal communication skills and no job to speak of, she has a much nicer house than mine, which I find disconcerting. 


    Another show, one I don’t really watch as much, is about a gay English bear named Rupert.  I have never heard him talk, but I am assuming he is English because his name is Rupert, and although they never make it clear in the show, I’m assuming he is gay because he has a thing for rainbows, there are at least 30 in the opening sequence alone.


    Then there is a show about a mailman of some kind.  I am morally opposed to this show, due to the fact that it sets a bad precedent.  Children should be taught from a young age to fear postdudes and postchicks, and run away from them whenever possible.


    Out of these cartoons, I would have to say that the one about the firefighters and EMTs is the best.  It is completely (fucking) unrealistic, but it is action-packed and culturally diverse.  A group of public servants have traded in the fire house and garage for a lair imbedded into the side of a mountain, costing the taxpayers of whatever state they are in billions of dollars in the process.  They have jets, submarines, helicopters, and to top it off, trained fighting dolphins that can disarm sea mines. 


    Click


    Eventually, around 4 A.M. my brain starts to shut down and I shut down my TV.  Try as I might, I know I’ll be back here in the same spot in 21 hours, lying on the couch after working out, my chin in my left hand and the controller in my right, wondering what else is on.

    A View From The Not So Cheap Seats

    There are few things as seminal to the American experience as an afternoon at the ballpark.  No matter the age, there are few things as gratifying — the sun on your back, peanuts, sunflower seeds, hot dogs and beer.  The faint smell of cut grass and childhood excitement fill the stadium.  Nothing is more engrained into the consciousness of a baseball fan as the sounds of the pipe organ, the roar of the crowd, the voice of the stadium announcer, and the insipid, irrelevant conversation of the two women sitting in front of me.

    “So… where did you meet him?”

    “I met him online.” This in itself was completely unsurprising, considering the woman’s age, hairstyle, and – from all outward appearances – thyroid problem.

    “What site?  I’ve been dabbling with different ones, but haven’t had too much luck.”

    “There is this Christian one that I have been on and off for the past few months.  I bounced from site to site for a few months, but I’ve had the best luck with this one.”

    “I tried one of those a few months ago, but all the guys that emailed me ended up being kind of… weird… for lack of a better term.” I don’t even know where to begin to remark on this statement, how could she possibly not see that one coming?

    “You have to just keep trying I guess.  I had to talk to seven or eight guys before I found one that I actually wanted to meet up with.”

    The two of them are facing each other as if sitting in a love seat with glasses of wine, surrounded by candles in an upscale downtown lounge.  It was almost as if they were wandering through a downtown park, having a casual conversation, decided to take a seat for a few minutes, then lost track of time as stadium was erected around them and a game commenced.

    Two things bothered me, not angered, but bothered me about the conversation they were having.  First, do Christians really need sites built with the sole purpose of hooking each other up?   They make up 80 percent of the US population, you cannot walk anywhere without tripping on a Christian, are they really that hard to find?  Where are the websites dedicated to helping twenty-something Atheistic misogynists find potential partners?  Trust me, that’s a much harder sell.

    Second, it bothers me — not from the standpoint of someone who watches baseball, but from the standpoint of someone who has and spends money – that anyone would spend $80 a head to go to a sporting event, specifically on opening day if all they were planning on doing was chatting and gazing into their friend’s eyes.  The diamond level at Chase Field offers the most comfort outside of the suites, but that comfort comes at a premium, I know this because I bought two tickets, and I distinctly remember saying to myself “I can’t believe I spent $160 to watch them fucking lose,” a phrase repeated the world over by sport fans, in different denominations, languages and currencies.

    The conversation continued for the duration of the game…

    “I really like that shirt on you.”

    “Really?  I didn’t think purple was a good color on me, but it was on sale.”

    “It’s a hard color to pull of, but I think the way it’s cut makes a big difference.”

    I felt the urge to tap one of them on the shoulder and inform them of the fact that there was a Major League Baseball game being played out mere feet from them, as if they would realize their oversight, thank me for pointing out the error, and enjoy the remainder of the game.

    This is not the way two grown men would ever behave themselves at a sporting event.  The only questions that would come out of a man’s mouth when with other men are, “are you buying?” or “what the fuck was that?”  It doesn’t bother me that anyone would have such a trite conversation, but it seems such a waste in this context.

    I know you, and I already know what you are going to ask me. “Jake,” you are saying, “why can’t you just ignore them and focus on the game?”  Well, objectively, this seems like it would be the best solution to my problem, but two very weird and wonderful things happen when you start writing about your life, the first of which being that you completely lose the ability to complete even the most mundane of tasks without a running narrative.

    …and as he slowly, and ever so gently removed the frail and temporary cover, unfathomable beauty and undeserved joy reveled itself.  This was, without a question, the most exceptional cheeseburger Jake had ever seen, and quite possibly the greatest cheeseburger of all time…

    …lines at the post office are a common occurrence, especially around tax season. Jake couldn’t help it, he couldn’t put his finger on it, but something about this particular line was unique.  This line frightened him and excited him simultaneously.  This line was special…

    I never said that the narratives were good, just that they flow unconsciously and compulsively.

    Second, and more to the point in regards to this particular situation, is that a writer completely loses the ability not to people watch or stick his nose in other people’s business.  No one is immune, chances are that if it happens in front of me or to people who are near me, I will write about it, especially if it’s funny.  My life, in of itself, is not particularly exciting.  My options are either to steal other people’s stories or to fill in the gaps of my pathetic existence with good, old-fashioned lies, both of which I exercise regularly.

    The two women talked and talked and stared at each other intently for the duration of the game.  Twice they were almost hit by flying objects; the first was a t-shirt being shot out of an air cannon, the second a bag of peanuts being flung to the couple next to them.

    “I think Lost is a good show.” The one on the right said to the one on the left.

    “I’ve been watching it from the beginning, but I still don’t really get it.”  The irony of that statement is too obvious for comment.

    My dad and I made bets as to who would be the first to lean over and kiss the other, and when it would happen.  Our conversation was loud enough for the man next to us to start choking on his drink, but apparently not loud enough for the women to hear us.


    “Are you going to Karen’s party next weekend?”

    “I don’t know, Karen’s kind of a bitch, plus, you’re the only one from work I really like.”

    “Can you go for me – with us?  I want to introduce you to Bob.”

    “Who’s Bob again?”

    “The guy I met on the internet.”

    “Well, you never told me his name.”

    The game ended, everyone was packed up and headed to the doors.  Everyone that is, save the chatterboxes sitting in front of us.

    “Who would have thought, to call a wrong number and actually get someone you haven’t talked to in years!”

    “Life is kind of odd that way.”

    “Tell me about it!”

    No, please don’t.

    I walked out of the stadium not knowing if the two of them were so lost in each others presence that they didn’t notice that the game was over, or if they were just waiting for the crowd to disperse.

    Suspension

    “You know what, Jake?”  She leans over and whispers in my ear as her voice quivers.

    “What’s up, hon?”

    “I need to tell you something, and I feel like I am putting myself way out on a limb right now, but this feeling is so strong that it’s killing me not telling you.”

    “I’m here… I want to know…”

    The tension and nervousness in the air is so palpable, so heavy that it anchors us to the second-hand love seat we are sharing.

    “I love you Jake… I’m in love with you.  I can’t stop thinking about you, and when you look at me, I know… I know in my heart that you-“

    “You know in your heart?”

    “I know in my heart that you feel-“

    “That doesn’t make any sense hon, your heart is a muscle, it can’t know anything.”

    “You’re a dick.”

    I have always had a problem with suspension of disbelief.

    Although my parents’ – specifically my father’s – belief that exposing his children to reality, vulgar language, brutal violence, and soft-core pornography at an early age stripped my brothers and I of a little bit of imagination and more than a small amount of innocence, I would be lying if I said it didn’t have its benefits.  One of which being that my parents generally spared us from the pure, exquisite torture that is the Disney subculture for the (im)pure action packed, entertainment value that could only be found on HBO and ShowTime.  While my childhood friends were watching Bambi and Dumbo on VHS, my brothers and I were watching such childhood classics as Aliens, Tales from the Crypt, and The Running Man.

    My parent’s desire to teach us right from wrong – specifically reality from fiction – had the specific and undeniable goal of destroying our ability to suspend disbelief.  One loses their ability to be scared or even have nightmares after being exposed to anything if they have had it drilled into their young impressionable heads that the doll is a puppet, it cannot under any circumstances, pick up a knife and murder you.  Robots cannot travel through time, kill you, and violate the Novikov self-consistency principle.  Organic life forms cannot exist with a blood pH low enough to eat through human flesh. By the age of 5, I was already able to watch the most gruesome of movies and sleep the night through, not thinking twice about the faked deaths I had just witnessed.

    Even my parents had a limit though, and would restrict my brothers’ access to violent or vulgar films when they began to have nightmares or started to speak… well… like I do now.  Although, unlike other parents who were protecting their children from the most vivid of horrible acts in their sleep, it always seemed like more of a punishment.

    “If you can’t tell the difference between reality and a movie, you can’t watch this with your brother!” my dad said to a four year old as he closed the door to the bedroom and forbade him to exit until the uncensored version of The Exorcist had ended.

    The inability to suspend my disbelief does, to this day, have its downside.  In short – I fucking ruin everything.  Although I know better, and realize that the plot points of most movies, television shows, books, and soft-core pornography are not nearly as important as the messages the stories are trying to convey, I find it hard to relate to a character who is flying on a broomstick, no matter how state-of-the-art it may be; I don’t find zombies particularly threatening; and I don’t care how much that chick drank, there is no way she would EVER sleep with that dude.

    There is a list of things that people hate exposing me to that is comparable to the combined works of one award-winning writer, Jake Diaz.  I will spare you from it, for now.  This list is further extended by the fact that I have a compulsive, knee jerk reaction that requires me to make fun of everything.  I have been punched more by friends and dates than anyone else I am aware of – people seem to take real offense when you lean over and whisper “I can’t quit you, Mr. Frodo” in the middle of their all-time-bestest-most-favorite-greatest-ever movie.

    To make matters worse, reality (bitterness and misogyny, really) has stripped any semblance of believability from what otherwise may be a nearly credible storyline.  Specifically movie romances, which always end with the charming, innocent, loving man ending up with the beautiful girl at the end, but never shows the situation 4 months later, when she starts fucking his two best friends on a webcam for fun and profit.

    In a story repeated many times over, on a planet called Earth, there exists a boy who is just becoming a man.  He is 14, right around the age of maturity, and wondering what this thing called ‘love’ has in store for him.  He is bright-eyed, and eager to find what he naively calls his ‘soul mate’ or ‘the one for him’.

    Fast forward – for argument’s sake – 18 years.  The boy is now a man.  This is evident by his debt, misery, and love-hate relationship with bourbon whiskey and Turkish black-tar heroin.  He now lives in a one bedroom apartment and drives a late-eighties Ford Festiva, but he doesn’t really think that much about his living situation, due to the fact that not only was his ex-wife good enough to take all of his possessions, but also took his soul in the divorce.

    As any (and I mean ANY) man knows, although the victor reaps the spoils, it is rarely the case where the victor is the most deserving.  This, more than anything, is the reason that men don’t read trashy romance novels, Jane Austen books (if you’re you know who, you know what I mean), or watch Sandra Bullock movies. Smart, capable, driven men don’t get the girls – assholes that live in their Volkswagen Bus and are chasing their dream of becoming professional surfers get the girls. 

    Love, like superluminal travel, doesn’t work like it does in the movies.  This, more than anything, is why men hate sappy love stories.  Not because people are emoting, but because very few people are suicidal at the end, trying to figure out what happened to their dreams and their HDTVs.

    A most seminal part of the movie-going experience is the 1 A.M. conversation at Denny’s.  It is, I am afraid, a subtlety and a cultural experience that is lost on foreign audiences of American movies.

    “That, for lack of a better term, was fucking retarded.”

    “Why do you say that?”

    “The character interactions were completely unbelievable, and there is no way they would have made it as far as they did without being killed.”

    “Uh…”

    “Besides, the antagonist wasn’t particularly deep, and he was made out to be some sort of evil asshole, like a villain from capitan planet-“

    “You do realize that the story is about a group of talking toys… it’s a cartoon Jake.”

    “What’s your point?”

    Please leave suggestions for good shrinks in the Tempe/Chandler area in the comment box below.