From the curb, 1204A appeared less like a house to me, and more like a 3D representation of the inverse of love rendered in wood and shingle. It felt like it to me, too, even from the first night I pulled up in front in the 22′ Penske. I tried to detect this same thing in other similar houses throughout the neighborhood whenever I walked past them, but none exuded the unhappiness of my hunched and peeling hovel. Maybe it’s the way that watery, dull green paint job looked by the half-light of the moon; like zombie phlegm, or the color of the filing cabinets left behind in your dead uncle’s garage apartment.

Dreams of Splitsville had sustained us both there for a while. Just getting out of the Southeast was a feat. Then it was retail therapy. My wife and I’d kept little lists of appliances and paint chips and such. (That German-made clothes iron was really going to change things.) Sometimes I’d buy something nice, but then keep it in its box, deciding it was much too fine a thing to be installed amid the leaky ceilings & cracked soffits, and serially clogged drains, and the doorknobs and switch plates hazed in hand grunge, and the fritzy wiring and the broken, fetid grout. I’d unboxed some nice bone china mugs at one point, only to cringe as I watched the neighbor from 1204B (nothing more than an aggrandized potting shed behind our place) literally slobber all over their rims during one of his ritual and protracted self-invites. He was a double PhD, and Japanese, and also a dwarf, and also weirdly passive aggressive, and snoopy, and would do irritating things like press his oily nose up against one of my old guitar amps and smell it before letting out an approving sumo grunt. And yet, for five summers we copied ‘n’ pasted our virtual signatures on the dotted line of the renewal notice, our plans remaining tightly furled on a high-up shelf, our belongings gradually morphing from treasure to encroachments. (There would be several Pompeii moments upon opening long-stowed boxes years later, rediscovering something that had been hastily packed away mid-doing with the clear intent of getting right back to it.)

We’d known that 1204A would be a downgrade from the get go, but had decided to live beneath our means for a while in order to save for a place of our own. Of course, 2008 was not the greatest time to start being a saver. To do so during a global recession felt like something on the order of sedition. After all, every bit of economic policy being drafted was designed to facilitate consumer spending and discourage saving. I’d never before lingered on the subject of economics, let alone the dynamics of the national residential real estate market. Just not my cup; but then the well was poisoned, and for a good long while, finance found its way into almost everything we drank or ate. The thesis of nearly every conversation turned to matters of housing, or speculators-vs-savers, consumerism, inflation/deflation, commodities, rentiers, (not renters misspelled — look it up ((or don’t))), lemon socialism, bailout scandals, Georgism, pump ‘n’ dump schemes, debt-to-income ratios, slumlords, down payments, taxes and how much was too much.

Today, I run from any such discussions. The decimal stuff depresses me, and I honestly, finally, do not care. Instead, I think about which of those early Pasolini films I should see, and which Billy Bean albums I still haven’t heard, and what is the best dry brush ink on the shelf, and whether the lilac bush on that one corner is in bloom yet, and absent friends, and my favorite architects, and mastering a new orchestral chord or two on the guitar, and good sculpture, and Jeffers’ Carmel, and where to find chrome-plated slotted equipment rack screws, and whatever else the hell trips my fancy.

On some of those nights toward the end, 1204A got to me so bad that I’d migrate out to the porch, no matter the weather, just so as not to be physically confined within its walls. Careful to avoid the grease spot where 1204B made his nightly kibble deposits for the strays, I’d park my tired trunk on the top step and proceed to over-think the matter of my own existence, or just play with my beloved feline, Charlotte, for an hour or so (she hated 1204A, too).

There was one night in particular; it stands out as being one of the last of the season perfectly suited to extended porch lamentations. It was late April I think, a moon so bright you could repair a watch by it, and more fireflies than you knew what to do with. A warm breeze hushed through the budding pear tree out front, sending it’s leaves shimmying and glimmering in the moonlight. I guess if a tree could be happy, this one was as giddy as a boy with a new puppy. In the distance, a halyard dinged against a flagpole, keeping time for a chorus of crickets. I probably shouldn’t mention the waves of honeysuckle or the shooting stars (two of them). A truly splendiferous night. Indeed, I suspect there must be only a handful of nights across an entire lifetime as truly Eden-like.

Meanwhile, my wife was inside asleep. She wanted to leave me. She’d told me so earlier that evening. She felt nothing for me anymore. Her words had set up franchises throughout my brain, doing some pretty ugly business with my heart along with the first few floors below before finally stopping at my guts and dwelling there like a 60 cycle hum. Every square inch of my nervous tissue had been tenderized and subsequently suffused in one after another of cheap, double fight-or-flight cocktails. Eighteen years together — since we were kids. Not to do the propagandists at the NAR any favors, but I swear that if we’d been installed in an actual home rather than slumming it in some grubby cubby down in scrubhole Texas, things very much most highly probably would not have gone to hell the way they did.

I remember that night wandering out past that happy pear tree and ripping out weeds by the fistfuls, like some green-thumbed fiend from a Robert E. Howard pulp. Fuck all these fucking thistles, man… It was probably a little after 1AM. I guess I must’ve given hell to about a good dozen or more when I heard the jingle of a dog collar from somewhere in the street behind me; there, being dragged past my curb by their spazzy whippet was a thoroughly modern couple of the shampoo/sugar/gluten-free persuasion. The kind of kids who have a ping-pong table outside the cube farm at their startup company and think it means they’re working for a really progressive outfit. Thankfully, they were too engrossed in discussing something to do with their new chicken coop to notice the sad weirdo lurking just off-screen, wielding a giant thistle still dripping milk from its taproot. They may have been the vile sort, but I did truly envy their unawares; 1204A meant nothing to them. They’d probably never even noticed it.

Composing myself, I flung the thistles up onto the roof and then crept back inside, silently making plans to drive back over to the old neighborhood once I was finally gone and go for a nice late night walk, just so I could walk right past 1204A.



FOREVER: sell by–2013

“Oh! – these are a-MAZ-ing,” swooned the wizened, hennaed cashier at the Walgreens as she scanned my Kleenex, even sneaking the box a mawkish little hug. According to the packaging, they contained a wonder ingredient — something called Cool Touch, which was supposed to make them seem, of all things, cool-to-the-touch. “Yeah, it’s like they came straight outta the crisper!” I studied the box, envisioning a group of chemical engineers somewhere out there in the vast shadowy lowlands of the territory, brainstorming new & improved means for mitigating the afflictions of the oozing masses; a real hell of a bunch.

“You ever tried ‘em before?” she asked. I told her I hadn’t. “Oh, they’re just the best. Way better than Puffs.” Then, with an exaggerated splutter: “They kill Puffs.” I told her I liked Scott tissue best, but that after awhile, it started to feel more like something woven in the Outer Hebrides against the ol’ mucus membranes, and so we discussed our preferred toilet tissues for a spell. Her name tag said FANNIE, but the obvious humor eluded me at the time. Fanny was something like the headwaiter who’d tried everything on the menu at least once, and I commended her on her supreme authority of the paper products aisle.

Once past the automated door, I let go a long sigh, and then treated myself to another, and another, until I was ventilating exclusively by long warbling sighs. I’d done it; I’d ventured from my blue little corner out into a hyper-lit public space while maintaining a reasonable facsimile of highly random slob. I even mustered some convincing smalltalk, despite not one thing in my life being small. That’s when I first stumbled on the formula — and maybe it’s something that’s obvious to everyone else but me, but essentially, all there really is to being strong is acting in a way that is exactly opposite to your suffering. (Try it out and let me know how it works.)


   As I navigated the old 240 homeward through the backstreets, my woman’s words sloshed around my brain pan. A torrent of resentments and recriminations that’d apparently gone untagged for years had suddenly been dragged out into the sunlight and flopped at my feet like a pile of dirty transcripts recovered from a house fire. In summary: I’d gotten everything wrong. Apparently, whenever she’d expressed how right and wonderful I was over the years, she was also acting in a way exactly opposite to how she felt.

In one of the more desperate hours, straying ever nearer ankle-clutching-&-begging territory, I began deconstructing and illustrating my love for her, to her. I expounded upon themes of loyalty and patience and caring, describing what exceedingly rare, highly endangered forces of good they each were, and how we both needed to do our small part to keep them from the shadows. I told her how afraid of how natural being alone had always felt to me — like a laziness or a vice to which too many people I’d known had too readily succumbed, all the while telling themselves how their handicap was really a kind of enlightenment. I told her how I needed to have at least one other soul in my life for whom I’d do anything, and with whom I wanted to do everything. Us against them. It came out sounding almost lyrical, and felt like it, too. It was also something like an epiphany for me, for in that moment, the full realization of these things about myself were gelling as I mouthed the words: damn…yeah, I really *do* feel this way.

She asked me whether I didn’t think it was unfair to burden a person with so much devotion. The inference was that I was loving her to death. I sat there for a long time, blanking out on the patterns in the homely blue quilt my mother-in-law made for us in back in the day — days I never would’ve dreamt I’d look back upon as the better of the bunch, for they’d been lean and uncertain. Finally, the question just seemed insane. No, I said; no, I don’t — but it was really more like, no I don’t garnished with a silent fuck you. Up until that point I’d been talking like it might be the last talking I ever did, as you do when you feel like how I was feeling, but no was suddenly the best I had. I was being rendered down to an unedited, binary state of being, all mannerisms, wit and guile skimmed away, leaving only my sloppy heart running down my shirt cuff like a melting clown nose. It does something to a man’s mind and to his body to be so naked. Personally, I’m not sure whether it’s grown me or shrunk me.

The card was what really did it. She’d sent it a few years earlier when she’d first started traveling for a new job. Reading it again, I started sobbing in place, my big dumb tears smacking the tiles in our ugly rented kitchen. She’d constructed it herself one afternoon at my suggestion that she’d been working too hard and needed some creative downtime. I remarked how much I liked the finished product, (she’d used my favorite colors). She remembered this, sneaking it out in her luggage a few months later and posting it to me from her hotel room. She’d addressed it to Sweetums. On the inside of the card was her loopy script full of gooey stuff. There was even a line where I could see she’d squeezed in an extra affectionate adverb or two as afterthought. (That’s when you know somebody loves you; when their feelings splash out over the neat margins of their bespoke stationery.) When I showed it to her that night, she reacted as though I’d produced a sneaky bit of evidence.

“I don’t know — I don’t remember how long ago I wrote that,” she muttered, glancing over her missive. I told her I did — that I remembered. I told her I’d counted up the days from the postmark; just over a thousand. Then I said something like — what difference does when make when someone says forever? If anyone can love any person that much, only to turn on a dime and slam their heart shut some 1,000 days later, well, then…what’s the fucking use? Of any of it?

“Probably,” she shrugged, “I just wrote something I thought you wanted to read.” And just like that, I found myself lost in a room without any windows or doors in my own little house of pain.


   Back home, I sat down on the concrete porch and wept as quietly as I could. I’d be goddamned if I let anyone hear me carrying on, but especially that witch inside. The tears just coughed up and out of me from somewhere very deep. I couldn’t breathe right. I cried for quite some time, by and for myself. I cried because people were so fucking rotten. I wrapped my arms around myself like you do to feel like someone’s holding you when there isn’t anyone. They were the lean, strong arms of the man I’d long ago cultivated to camouflage the too-sensitive kid tucked beneath. I’d been born with a soft heart — something like a boiled pumpkin inside a thin glass box, albeit, glass painted to look like cold rolled steel. The humble wizardry of muscle tissue and manner were my only remaining armor. But I could feel the walls going up even as I sat there; ramparts growing thicker and higher until, finally, there would be no way in or back out again. I might even secretly go around wishing that someone strong enough might one day crash the gates; but I already knew nobody could ever be that strong, nor brazen enough to hazard a go, because, to start with, their own walls wouldn’t allow it. Maybe I’d even grow bold enough to lend someone a hand; but then, dismantling one’s own firewall feels something akin to slow suicide.

Years earlier, I’d helped my woman remove a wall or two, allowing for ready access to all my jelly spots. But now, sitting there in the dark on the steps of our loveless home, sopping up the exit wounds with cool-touch Kleenex, it was impossible to do much else beyond dream up blueprints for better, stronger defense systems; to go back and redraft the schematic for a 2.0 release, utilizing the narrative arc of Lee Hazlewood lyrics and old MANDOM commericals as general templates.