58. Violence

There’s this wriggling thing where I shake a trick and bustle a grapefruit and walk three times and shake my hands in the air like the branches of a tall tall willow tree, and there is singing and dancing and a bonfire and marshmallows toasted on pointy sticks and cider and the wind is brisk and filled with purpose and everybody puts their hands up in the air and waves them like flags waving over the battlefields and the sinking ships and the cemeteries and the halls of power and the used car dealerships and the schoolyards and the front lawns and the embassies and the U-ass-nited fucking Nations, we’re talking U to the N with all the hope of the world squashed into a manila folder and left on your desk while you’re on vacation and maybe you’ll go to the west coast and put on skimpy swim-wear and hold still while the sun darkens your skin and that night in the hotel bar you’ll meet someone who makes you feel ten years younger, like you felt when you were in college, but then you remember the file and you fly back to New York desperately trying to get there, striving, striving, and there’s this sense of being forced to try even when you know there isn’t any hope and it won’t make any difference and you’ll still maybe never fall in love again and you’ll die alone clutching a grapefruit against scurvy in one hand and a baseball bat against the oppressor-intruder in the other hand, and the oppressor-intruder comes anyway even though they know you have a baseball bat and you’re fucking ready, man, like you’ve never been ready for anything before, but now when the oppressor-intruder comes and rifles through your belongings right in front of you like you’re not even there and you’re too scared to use the bat just like they knew you would be, but you didn’t know it, and the sickening surprise of it poisons your blood and your heart chokes and your guts spasm and you go, man, but where, man, where?

I want to talk the walls a symphony of crying. I want to slither the minivan a waffle of blather, I want to use words that aren’t words and still convey meaning, I want to be a whole person, I want it not to hurt just to be alive, I want there to be a time when I can draw breath and have it not sting.

Because. Because of your indecision. Because of the United Nations. Because of the highest court in all the land. Because that’s what Aunt Ruby said, and she taught us to listen. Because my skin is bubbling like boiling mud, and my eyes are steaming like piss-holes in snow.

About When I Woke Up

57. Scared

I’m scared of having a telemarketer come to my door and sell me a bucket of muffins. I’m scared of walking into a room and finding an unexpectedly large scale model of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m scared of being stuck in a closet with a jar containing the cast-off skin of an anaconda. I’m scared of clipping my nails. I’m scared of eating a poisonous frog and turning into a Studebaker. I’m scared of being seen as more of an oak than a maple.

When I get scared, I turn into a large stack of Fleetwood Mac albums. I whistle Dixie and cram rotten fish heads into my nostrils. Moths come and nibble my earlobes: foot-wide moths with eyes like tumorous lymph nodes. My internal organs are removed by small men, placed on a display table, and meticulously labeled.

Sometimes I scare other people. These victims turn into cheerleaders and dance the Roger Rabbit at the funerals of flight attendants. These victims reach into their bottomless backpacks and pull out full stage productions of Shakespeare’s masterpieces. They make collect calls to the Vatican.

I’m scared of making you tired. Perhaps we should lie down and take naps to stave off future weariness. I’m scared of making you hungry. Here is a cheesecake; I’ll wait until every last morsel has disappeared into your cavernous maw. I’m scared of making you horny. I’ll be in the next room; let me know when you’re finished. I’m scared of skinning you. Take this carrot peeler away from me before I do something we’ll both regret.

I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.

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56. I Don’t Have Time

I don’t have time to stand around here punching guts and folding fates and wrapping them up in paper and twine. I’m not the butcher. I’m not the baker. I will not create candlesticks, but I’m not above using them to fix my illumination.

I’m through pounding a beat.

We have moved from planning to preparation. We have put overly fine points on things. We have seized the bell rope and braced for the pulling. We have placed the candles in the tower: one if by land, two if by sea. We have set the table, and are sitting down to dinner.

Now is the time for the chewing and the swallowing. Now is the time for the idle discussion. Now is the time for the inappropriate broaching of that impending topic. Now is the time for the sweeping aside, the clamour and the clatter, the wob-wob-wob sounds of upended crockery spinning down to stillness on the tile floor.

I want to leave all of that behind and take you with me. I want you in that way, in that place, in that room, on that furniture. I want to set your toothbrush down next to mine in preparation for the morning that is to follow. I want those toothbrushes to rattle on their shelf until.

I would bear down on it. I would show you. We could take turns offering detailed explanations. We could convince one another, I’m sure of it. Progress would be made. Seating arrangements would get nailed down. We would sort the mail. We would dust and sweep, dusk and shiver. We would hash out who is going to wash the dishes and who is going to dry them after we work together to pick them up off the floor and stack them by the sink.

How can I explain it? I want it to be a big deal so that I can trivialize it. I want it to be trivial so that I can make a mountain out of it. When I was in college, I took a class on mountain making, but that isn’t important right now. What is important is that we step forward into the bringing.

Now. Before it’s too late. Before I reach the tree line. Before the last bite is swallowed. Before we drip wax all over everything. Now.

I mean, like, if you want to.

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About When I Woke Up

55. Sent by God

I was not sent by God to help you.

It was like this: The first time we met, you became convinced that I was sent by God to help you. This was your idea, and not my fault. I just happened to accidentally say the exact things you needed to hear, at a time when you were quite receptive to earnestness. What can I say? I’m a relatively nice person with a handy repertoire of earnestness. Our numbers just came up that night.

We parted. Inspired, you wrote me a letter explaining how much our chance meeting meant to you. You explained your theory that I was sent by God to help you. I was not prepared for such a letter, and I fled like a pheasant from the jaws of the hound. This came as no surprise to God. I don’t really know how to describe what you went through as a result of my actions, but the phrase “high and dry” does suggest itself. Forget your own humiliation for a moment and savor the rotting-meat flavor of mine.

Where was your knight in shining earnestness? You sent me a post-card asking, and received no response save for the beating of wings and a speck disappearing behind some trees. I can’t really apologize with any expectation of forgiveness. I can’t really apologize because it doesn’t seem fair to make the gesture.

In his cloud, God chuckles.

We met a year later, in the same place. You were still heart-pressingly beautiful, and sad like a concrete goose. We got a chance to talk, and I said the most horrible things imaginable. What can I say? I’m a relatively nice person with a handy repertoire of earnestness. It just happened to be the exactly wrong kind of earnestness that night. I could smell your let-down like ozone, and the laughter of God buzzed around us like the mosquitoes.

Make no mistake: The mosquitoes were fucking annoying.

We disappeared to our respective haunts, never to cross paths again. I sometimes wonder what became of you, with your mass of curly, dark-brown hair and liquid midnight eyes. I did not save you. Were you ever saved? Or did you retreat and disappear? Or did you simply cease to be a teenager, and things got better as a natural consequence? God knows. As for me, the squishy aspects of my life turned into a sort of train wreck, and my failures in your case are something I’ve only recently started to get over.

Recovery began with the realization that God was never there.

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54. How It Starts

They taught you to be afraid. They showed you the way to make everything just right, such that you could never find peace. And they couched their explanations in language that implied entitlement, correctitude, serenity.

That is why, when you sit in your padded room, you look around yourself and see that everything is how they said it should be, and yet you are without peace, bereft of contentment.

And you assume it is because of you that your peace is stillborn. You’re not doing it right. You don’t deserve it. You’re too weak.

I want to pluck out the eyes of the dream and watch it stumble into traffic. I want to string together a sequence of sentences and have it matter. I want to help. With these hands, I want to shape the vessel of your deliverance. I want to fold, spindle, and mutilate the poisons that were fucked into your ear. I want to take something dirty and polish it until it shines the light of truth to shame the daylight. I want to insinuate myself gently into the uterus of toil and draw forth the birth of freedom.

But I’d settle for a hug.

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About When I Woke Up

53. Fuck the Opposition

I can smell the Opposition.

The Opposition is petty, always ready to give a nickel or a dime, acting like being the victim is the crime.

The Opposition rolls its eyes.

The Opposition is dangerously misled, superiority god complex voodoo on a good china plate with butter and beans.

The Opposition doesn’t dance as well as we do.

The Opposition doesn’t know how things really are on the street, or the mansion front hall, or the corridors of power, or the power lines that criss-cross the skies of this land.

The Opposition flaunts its dead-eye jacket, wearing the sweat and blood of millions as though it were finest silk. And it is.

The Opposition uses big words just to sound smart.

The Opposition cannot be bothered to wipe the smirk off its face while wiping its ass with the sacred principles of mediocrity.

There is no Opposition. I command the Lord God Almighty at this time to wipe the Opposition from the pocked face of creation. (God hates the Opposition.)

With these hands, I will crush the larynx of the Opposition, I will wring the screams from its throat like blood from a rag, and leave a crumbled corpse in a heap on the floor of the marketplace.

I will plant a sign in the guts that reads, “You must be as tall as this sign to ride the Opposition.”

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52. A Moving Read

The other day I was reading the paper when suddenly the ink began to move. It started near the center of the page; the ink seemed to liquefy and then slither and ripple in all directions to the edges of the page. It made a sort of gurgly swishing noise as it moved, and the paper trembled slightly in my hands as if the ink were moving throughout the entire paper.

After a few seconds, the movement stopped. In my hands was a sheaf of blank newsprint. I began to page through it.

I found the ink congregated on what I believe used to be page C-3. There it was, an inky, impossibly black miasma about the size of a CD, shimmering faintly and pulsating disturbingly. When I put my face closer to study it, I heard a low murmur almost as though the ink were conversing softly with itself.

I sat there for a few moments, trying to decide what to do. I came to the conclusion that I should find somewhere to lay the paper flat. I folded it carefully, carried it into the dining room, cleared a place on the table, and set the paper down, opened to the page formerly known as C-3. The ink was still congregated there. I regarded it for a while, and I had the unpleasant impression that it was regarding me back.

Finally, I decided that I had to know. “Are you good, or evil?” I asked, my voice quavering slightly.

“Ee-vill,” the ink answered in an exaggerated English accent. For me, the accent was the real tip-off that I was dealing with something truly malevolent.

I knew I had to act fast. I went and got a mason jar from the basement. Then I rolled up the newspaper, held it over the open mouth of the jar, and shook vigorously. After a few moments, the ink blob oozed out of the end of the roll and plopped into the jar. Quick as lightning, I closed the lid.

Satisfied with this temporary measure, I took a trip to the hardware store and came home with some quick-setting cement and a five-gallon plastic bucket. I mixed up the cement and filled in the five-gallon bucket with the jar in the middle. Then I buried the bucket about three feet down in my back yard.

Thus did I save the world.

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51. When I Play Your Games

I touch you on the shoulder in greeting. You don’t take note of me beyond a cursory nod.

Photons bounce off of me. You look through me.

With the folds of mucous membrane in my throat I vibrate the air. You don’t hear me, not that you’d listen.

When I sit down beside you, you move to another bench.

When I tentatively reach out my hand, you roll up the window.

When I sneeze, you don’t say, “Bless you.”

The things that interest me do not interest you.

You don’t return my calls.

When I eat, you wonder where the last slice of bread has gotten to.

When I go on trips, I come back from them. You stay here for the duration. You don’t notice that I’m gone and you aren’t surprised when I return.

When I die, you change the channel.

I will stop playing your games.

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50. The Radio Rodeo

I want to go to Radio City and participate in the Radio Rodeo. I want to strap on my cyber-chaps, climb to the top of that horse, and let it buck. I know that I would win the Radio Rodeo, and be the envy of everyone and everything that is influenced by electromagnetic radiation.

The only question is, what would I do with my newfound power and influence? Would I have streets named after me? Would I tell her that she was pretty again? Would I reveal too much personal information? Would I have a public, painful, alcohol-fueled meltdown? Would I sit at the end of the bar and drink quietly to myself, and deny when people asked that I was the winner of the Radio Rodeo? Would I sit by the jukebox and drop electronic dimes to play the same song over and over again forever?

No one would complain, as I played the song for the twentieth time that hour. “He won the Radio Rodeo,” they would say to each other, and this would serve as adequate explanation.

The only thing that is bothering me is, what song would I play? And, having decided, what if I discovered that the jukebox in question did not have that song?

You know the answer as well as I do: full-scale universal shutdown.

This is why, when I climb to the top of that horse, I feel something is wrong. I can’t put my finger on it, though, and then the gate opens. The second I am out, the saddle ejects, my horse explodes, and I am disqualified.

Later that night, I am dejected, sitting at the end of the bar drinking quietly to myself. The jukebox sits sullenly silent behind me. A woman slides into the stool next to mine. She is wearing sunglasses. I don’t tell her she is pretty. When I spare her a conversational glance, she says, “Hey, don’t take it so hard, cowboy.”

I shake my head. “I had plans, you know.”

“It’s for the best,” she says, laying a hand gently on my arm.

I shake it off. “What do you know about it?” I growl.

“This jukebox doesn’t have ‘Pompton Turnpike,’ ” she says quietly.

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49. 499 psi

I thought this would make you feel better, this turning back of the vice a scant millimeter so that 499 psi of pressure to your temples would be made to feel good, soothing even, after all of those hours at 500. Perception bows in service to context, you know.

So I wasn’t prepared for you to lash out at me like you did. I understand, of course, that you weren’t genuinely angry at me. You were really lashing out at those other people that put you in your current place — they were the ones who wheeled your cart into position and then slowly, almost gently, twisted the mechanism. I knew that you were addressing them and not me. But to have you talk to me like that, it still hurt a little bit, like a grain of sand in the eye, quickly swept away by automatic plumbing.

I just backed off, explaining that I was only trying to be helpful. When your only reply was to snarl, I washed my hands and walked away, leaving you in your shackles. Ungrateful fucker.

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About When I Woke Up