Dec 7, 2009

200gr8

Dedicated to Train Girls, Two-Headed Giraffes, Girls Who Believe in Ghosts,

And Susie

***

Foreword

They were life affirming moments... Hopping fences into sold-out shows that I wouldn't have paid for anyway; Landing on a guy who used to pick on me in high school. What had I been up to? I'd almost felt guilty answering that question.

They were the moments when I'd find myself dragging a mattress down the street at four in the morning or traveling to across the country to taste an extremely mediocre veggie burger. When I'd find the exact vanilla chai drink that I'd been craving all day in a dumpster visited on a whim. They were moments of clarity; when I was sure that things it couldn't get any better if I tried. Then Susie found a box of three-dozen gourmet cookies in the university bathroom and it was like our whole lives were leading up to that moment.

While friends were complaining about crippling debts, failed engagements, failed marriages, lacking ambition, hating their majors, and not knowing what to do with their lives, my biggest concern was whether to have the guacamole fight inside the house or inside the school bus parked in the front yard. Whether I should see a show Chicago or play a show in California. Whether I should do whatever I want or, you know, whatever else I want.

I didn't plan for this. The plan was to get a job at coffee shop, find an apartment, and go to community college. Instead, I was arrested, hospitalized, lost my virginity, became a militant anarcho-primitivist, had a nervous breakdown, was robbed by an old man, toured the around the country with one of my favorite bands, had eggs laid in my skin, masturbated in some bushes, and avoided paying rent at all costs. It seems like these things just happen when you begin to take control of your life.

***

Train Girl
Pear-Land!~~~~~~~ NOT DONE
Dhabaddicted
SXSW…or Something?~~~~~~~~~~~ NOT DONE
Virgin, Virgin, Virgin!
Prontosaurus
Mrs. Adventure
Critical Massacre ~~~~~~~~NOT DONE
Need a Job? Let's Taco Bout it
My New, Old Roommate
Nervous Breakdance
No Meat, No Mercy~~~~~~~ NOT DONE
Thumbs Up, Up and Away!
Thrashville
Deathcake
Lubbock is Boring and Flat: Fact
The Dumpster Doughnut Diet
No, Corruption First, Then Kisses
Gnarbox
WTFACL?
Still Bitter About the Breakup
Obama, Y'all (People We Can Believe In?)
Peachcake 2
Man-Infest Destiny
Dhaaagh ~~~~~~~ NOT DONE
If a Guy Masturbates Alone in Some Bushes, Does He Make a sound?
Just Like the Colonists, But With Vespas and Arguments About Grammar~~~~~~~ NOT DONE
Fort Worth It
Man-Infest Destiny 2: Sorry, Susie
Tofutti VIPs
Train Girl 2

***



Train Girl

I met her on the train. I was walking back from the dining car when I first saw Train Girl. I wasn’t sure if she was a girl or a boy, but she was so cute it didn’t matter. I wanted to talk to her... but how?

At my seat, squeezing bananas, I dreamed up scenarios of us talking together and laughing all night in the diner car. In my head she was smart, vegan, fun, radical, and she didn’t do any drugs! She would probably fall in love with me. Then our magical evening would end with her walking capriciously off the train with me, likely to pursue a long, meaningful relationship. I tried for three hours to think of a way to approach her but it wasn’t until I had devastated my entire banana supply that I had come up with something that would work. My chosen plan was subtle, but clever. Simple, yet genius. If this idea didn’t work I was sure that nothing else would. I looked out the window at the passing hillside, mustered all the courage I knew, and then walked into the dining area where I quietly sat down at the table behind her.

“Flawless.”

But something was different now, three hours later. Who was that man next to her? Who was she talking to? There was a middle aged man standing near her table. Why was talking to her? To my Train Girl?! And who was he? Her boyfriend?! Oh God. They were probably engaged. Things could not have gone any worse. Then he noticed me glaring at him and menacingly asked me which book I was reading.

“WHAT?!” I said as if I hadn’t heard. I needed to buy time.
“What book is that?” he asked again.
“Oh… Well, um… It’s called ‘Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.’” I said defiantly.

Then it happened… It was like nothing I’d ever seen before: she turned around. Everything was in slow motion, I swear! When she looked at me with those big, sexually ambiguous, brown eyes and said she’d read that particular book before, I didn’t know what to do. My entire body was rigid. The air was electric. Things took an even more dramatic turn when she asked if she could sit with me! My plan to sit behind her for hours clearing my throat was in shambles.

“I’ll just sit next to you. There’s, um, better light?” I said, not really making any sense.

I held my breath as I walked over to sit down across the table from her. I gave a ‘thumbs up’ and wondered if I could be any worse at flirting. She was beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that it reminded me that I had just given myself a terrible haircut and I became incredibly self-conscious. My head was a disaster in every aspect. I was nervous. Things were tense. I didn’t know what to say so I faked a cough the entire time. I do not think I could be any worse at flirting.

”I’m going to call you Tilly.” I declared.
”Like ‘Tilly and the Wall’?” she asked, understanding the reference. I swooned.
”God yes.”

That was when things got a little strange. As fate and seemingly contrived plot would have it, she was smart, vegan, fun, radical, and drug-free. She also had just snuck on the train from Portland on her way to Florida. I couldn’t believe it. Was this love..? I wasn’t sure. Probably. I could not stop swooning. The evening was one perpetual swoon. We talked about books, music, movies, and our plans for the future… How could it have been anymore perfect? I didn’t think it could, until something absolutely absurd happened. Something that never actually happens to anyone.

She got off the train with me.

My life was surreal. Everything was happening the way it did in my completely unrealistic daydream (even down to her being hungry for bananas). It was like watching a really predictable movie, written by and starring myself. For a moment I thought I was dead. Did this mean she liked me? Yes, of course this meant she liked me. In my movie she liked me. I suppose, was it possible that she was just so adventurous that she’d change her plans on a whim to go spend a few days in an imaginary sounding city called Pearland. Maybe that was possible, I had decided. But unlikely. It was more likely that we were soulmates. “Of course she likes me,” I thought. But maybe she didn’t. I didn’t know what to think anymore. What was going on? The line between reality and fantasy had blurred beyond recognition and we were sitting in a train station at 5 AM waiting to be picked up in downtown Houston.

***

In second grade some kid and I shattered an apartment window to steal the porn we saw lying on the floor inside. We were desperate if not courageous. Three years later a different friend and I masterminded a fundraising scam that got me expelled and him beaten with a belt. We used our wily, fifth-grade charm to sell things out of a catalog. Then we pretended to write names down and pocketed the cash. We would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for those meddling women whose money we stole. Or if I hadn’t given them my real address when they asked me for it. Then there was a message on our answering machine years later in eighth grade that vaguely described how I had been caught stealing a Hot Pocket at lunch. They speculated a friend and I were “responsible for the theft of over sixty Hot Pockets.” But other than those incidents (and I guess books I had in my backpack), I never really stole anything. It had never really occurred to me to steal groceries. Even if it had, I’d have been terrified of being caught. When I spent all my paychecks buying organic food, I told myself it was just the high cost of healthy eating. When I was only eating four or five days a week, that was just how it goes sometimes. But when Train Girl told me she didn’t like paying for food and preferred to steal it, it was an epiphanic moment. I felt lucid. Suddenly it felt like that moment in the morning when you realize you’re awake. Or perhaps more appropriately, that moment in the morning when you realize you’d been starving all those months for no reason whatsoever.

“Why should people pay for food?”

I hadn’t been asked a question so fundamentally ground-shaking since “Why do you eat animals?” We have to pay for land, water and places just to sleep. We’re denied self-sufficiency. We’re denied our most basic human rights and have to sell irretrievable hours of our lives away for wages that ultimately profit those who deny us our rights in the first place. Not paying for food… Duh! Why hadn’t I ever thought of that?

We went to grocery store and after nearly twenty minutes of hesitation and silent encouragement from the girl I was most certainly in love with, I walked out with a pint of ice cream and a banana in my jacket. Liberation is carrot cake Rice Dream split three ways.

I’ll probably never know if she was making a move that night when she took off her pants, but one thing led to another and we ended up joking about 9/11 until we fell asleep. I thought about her a lot for the a few weeks after she’d left. She had offered me a place to stay in Portland and there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to visit once summer came. Visiting Portland became my new goal in life. My destiny, even. I’d show up on a train, hopefully with a better haircut, and we’d do whatever it is that people do in Portland when they’re in love. Get married. Eat vegan doughnuts. Maybe even spend more than two days together. Until then, she had found an unlocked back room to sleep in at the train station and we left her there to continue with her travels, all the while she left me wondering if I had just hugged her too hard.

…Was this love?

***

Pearland!

I didn’t think Pearland was real. Sometimes I still don't. Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking when I left home to go to an imaginary sounding city to live in a trailer park with someone I met on a rollerblading website. Other times it's the only part of my life that makes sense to me.

His name was Philip, and I was actually supposed to stay with his friend who I also knew through the internet. Unfortunately, something involving marijuana, online games, and mediocre Jewish rap took place and I wound up staying with Philip, his brothers, and their dad who apparently pooped into bags out of his hip.

"Look at this."

I spent a little less than a week eating peanut butter and writing bad stories about ‘gun-phones’ before I was woken up one morning with surprising news. “My dad’s an asshole and says you have to leave.”

***

Dhabaddicted

To describe how much Dhaba Joy meant to me would be impossible. To reveal how much money I spent there would probably disgust some. And to admit how often I visited would be like telling how often a person with Chlamydia changes their underwear. Or something.

Oh yes... I remember the day I found Dhaba Joy. It was a day like no other. Or so I thought.

I was riding my bike enthusiastically up the sidewalk on the busy street adjacent to the university. It was a sunny day with a cool, subtle breeze. The sky was bluer than it had ever been and all the college kids were out meandering with their girlfriends or boyfriends or both. The Drag Rats were looking for change and the shoppers were shopping in chains. Everyone and everything seemed to be in order. I felt comfortable. I felt a happiness similar to a monk after nocturnal emissions. Like I was cheating somehow. I could have ridden up that sidewalk forever.

“Welp, time to turn around!”

I had reached the Jack in the Box six blocks from where I started. I had never been past the Jack in the Box, you see. I was scared. Anyone would have been. No one knew what waited past the Jack in the Box. It could have been anything. I wouldn't risk it. I could see a Blockbuster, but beyond that was certain peril. I began to turn around when I felt a sudden, overwhelming surge of courage. Every cell in my body was telling me to go further down the street. I could feel my feet trying to push against my pedals as if of their own volition. My fingers gripped my handlebars and I knew I had to make a choice. It was now or ever. North or south. Life or death. I recklessly pushed the crosswalk button and knew I had just opened a new chapter in my life.

As I sped down the sidewalk into uncharted territory, I saw something from the distance. It was a yellowish-orangish-reddish building with a bunch of glittery plastic spinning in the breeze. “Toy Joy” read the sign. It had been overcharging Austin tourists for little bits of plastic made in China for nearly fifty years. A community staple, it seemed. I took three steps inside and immediately walked out; sensory fucking overload. I hadn't been so suddenly and overwhelmingly stressed since my first pregnancy scare. But as I walked back to my bike I noticed something painted on the window! The words jumped out like it was 1929.

“VEGAN BAKERY”

I stood there trying to make sense of it all. How had I not known about this place? Why hadn't anyone told me? Why was I still outside? I walked in and got in line immediately, smiling at everyone around me. The guy in front of me was large and tattooed, with dreads to his lower back. He turned around and I let out a very odd sounding “Hee-ah-ey!” as my voice cracked violently. He turned back and I began scanning every pastry, certain I’d get them all. I spent the next seven or eight minutes looking over everything, unable to decide. Cookies, cakes, cupcakes, pies, sandwiches, sushi, coffee, milkshakes... How was I supposed to pick something? When I finally reached the register and the cute girl asked me what I wanted, I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea. Then I felt my cells thinking for me again, making a brilliant, epic decision. I was warm when I nervously blurted out “I don't KNOW! …You pick!”

“I don't know. You pick.” later became my usual.

I sat down with my sandwich, ice cream, and mountain of cookies in a red, hand-shaped chair facing the porn shop across the street. If I wasn't so skinny and frail, it'd have been called gluttony. If those cookies were cigarettes, I'd have disgusted the heaviest chain smoker. And If Dhaba Joy was a person, there might have been a restraining order involved. But there wasn't. We were in love... Sweet vegan love.

As I finished my last bit of almond butter cookie, an unsettling question entered my head. "What now?" What was I going to do next? Nothing in life could possibly top than what I just experienced. Everything was downhill from there. Even the uphill back to the bus stop! Oh my God. What had I done? Everything would forever crumble in comparison: All pastries would be stale. All sweets would be bitter. Could I ever successfully maintain a healthy relationship knowing full well that I will never love anyone or anything as much as I love Dhaba Joy?

I thought a while and did the only thing I could do. I got more cookies. And then I came back every day. And then I proceeded to spend my entire savings there in a matter of months. It was the best thing to ever happen to anyone. But what was further than the Dhaba Joy? That didn't matter, I knew, but I thought I'd look anyway.

What is this place you call "Wheatsville?"

***

SXSW

Tuesday

Sometimes I think about the afternoon I quit the easiest, highest paying job I'll ever have so I could sit in some bushes for a while. I make strange decisions sometimes. Come to think of it, it was the same day I had left my bike on the bus rack and walked away. Though, that wasn't a decision as much as it was really embarrassing and stressful.

It was the first day of SXSW, and I knew that devoting five days to sex, drugs, and rock ‘n' roll would probably be the best decision I could ever make. Being a virgin and drug-free, by my math, it seemed I was in for at least one-third of a good time.

SXSW was crucial in my life that year. It was non-negotiable. If I had to get a job and move in with my friends, they would have to wait for SXSW to end. The music festival was one of main the reasons I chose to move to Austin. Being such, I spent the entire week prior making charts, graphs, and scratching through my notebook trying to most effectively schedule myself so I could see as many bands as possible. Kimya Dawson was playing a show on Thursday and Sunday with Two Gallants and Islands, whereas WHY?'s two shows were on Wednesday and Friday. But, in order to see Best Friends Forever play with Best Fwends twice, I would have to skip Anathallo playing with Cloud Cult who was opening for WHY?. BUT, I could immediately rush south to see Shout Out Louds and Noah and the Whale, assuming I didn't have to wait in line to see Be Your Own Pet and the Octopus Project. Which I would. Taking that into consideration, I would have just enough time to see Matt and Kim twice on Sunday before some drunk guy bought me a Vivian Girls shirt as long as I went to Whole Foods to steal bread at 4 instead of 5:50. But ONLY if I went to the second Elf Power show instead of the first one… This would leave my entire Friday clear for Tilly and the Wall and a trip to Veggie Heaven. You just don't learn these things in school.

With my schedule complete and my hearing susceptible to irreversible damage, I set out on the first day of SXSW with the intention to immerse myself in the festivities no matter what. Even if it meant sleeping in abandoned buildings. In fact, especially if it meant sleeping in abandoned buildings. There weren't too many in the middle of downtown, though. There was, however, the 21st Street Co-Op. After the first day of riding my recovered bicycle from show to show, exhausted, sweaty, and gratified (which sounds awfully similar to sex), I decided that it would be my best bet to stay there for the night. I had only been there once before to help wash dishes after Food Not Bombs, but I didn't actually know any of the residents. Still, I figured, I could probably sleep in the grass without being hassled. I was weary, though. Very weary.

I arrived at the co-op around 1AM, where I found the kitchen/dining area door wide open. I walked in, sat down and wondered what it would be like to sleep in the freezer. People were walking around outside and I could hear some music being played loudly upstairs. I sat there for a while with no idea what to do next. I opened my backpack and pretended to look for something so no one would suspect I was really scared and confused, just like I did on my first day of sixth grade. So many thoughts raced through my head as I sat in the empty room pretending to inspect my cell phone charger. "What if I'm not allowed to sleep here? What if they just don't want me to sleep here? What if they hate me? What if they hate me so much they want to hurt me? They'll probably beat me up in my sleep. What if they rape me?" Then a nice, bearded person walked into the room and smiled at me.

"Hello." he said, waving.
"Hhh--" I mouthed at him, staring.
"Waiting for someone?"
"Umm… Uh, yeah. Well kind of. Yes and no. Well, more no than yes. Not at all, actually. But I have a question for you: seeing as you have a beard, you probably live here, right? Do you think it would be okay if I slept in the grass tonight? If not that's okay, I don't have to. I would totally understand if you didn’t want me to sleep here. I can go somewhere else. In fact, I should probably go somewhere else; they're probably waiting for me. I’m leaving right now, don’t worry about it. "
"Um… Alright. Well, If you want to sleep here we can probably find you some place better than the grass." He said.
"That would be awesome." I said, grateful but suspicious.

He told me to follow him and motioned his head toward the door. I nodded, surreptitiously reached my arm into my bag and slid my knife into my sleeve. 


We walked into a small a room full of people who were smoking pot and watching videos on the internet. I gripped my knife. Then, sometime within the next few hours, after more than thirty online videos, the only girl who was sitting in the circle spoke to me. I don’t remember what she said but I remember it meant that we were in love. For some reason, I then confessed to her and the whole room that had a knife in my hand and was afraid of being murdered. Everyone stared at me with puzzled, piercing eyes and I quickly left the room, retreating to a couch in the common area where apology was left the next morning.


Wednesday

That morning I woke up alone in my sleeping bag at 21st St. with two questions on my mind: ‘What was I doing with my life?’ and ‘Why?’ But like some sort of Chinese proverb, the questions were the answers and the answers were the questions. Why? was what I was doing with my life. I’d been waiting nearly five years to see Why? live and finally the day had come. Finally I’d be able to meet the people responsible for the music that spoke to me like no other music ever had, with lyrics like none I’d ever heard before. I’d be able to meet the man who spoke to me of teeth behind kisses and elephant eyelashes; the man whose peculiar personal issues gave me comfort in my own; the man who crafted sophisticated, earnest poetry about unrequited love and masturbating in bathrooms. I was finally going to meet the person I could probably most relate to. It would be an experience that would change my life, to be sure. I would approach him after the show, introduce myself, surprise him with a gift, then we’d probably go hang out at Veggie Heaven and talk about how great it would be to cry in the bathroom. God, I could not have been more excited!

I rode down to Emo’s where the line to get in barely extended out the door. I was fidgety and anxious; constantly looking for no one in particular. I kept going over my plan in my head: “Meet, greet, give and eat. Meet, greet give and eat…” It was a good plan. A great plan. A greet plan. I was only three people and one hand stamp away from admittance into the venue and when it suddenly dawned on me that I was going to actually see Why?.

“Oh my SHIT!” I exclaimed, causing everyone to turn around. I turned around too, pretending to look for the culprit.

Moments later, I was inside the outdoor venue, mingling with shirtless men with bad breath and worse tattoos. I hid my backpack behind a portapotty and then forged my way into the center of the crowd near the stage. There was no way I wouldn’t be up front. Impossible. The people who want to see the band most should always be up front, and if there was any dispute over it, I’d be willing to fight for my beliefs. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself as I stood timidly behind a tall man for forty minutes, waiting for a chance to brush past him. But when the opening band finished playing and the tall man looked to his left, I squeezed past him and several people until I was a mere two persons away from the stage. Now, any normal person would have been okay with this. Satisfied, even. Not me. Not for Why? No way. I struck up a conversation with the couple in front of me and laid out a convincing argument as to why I should be up front for Why?.

“Hey, I know you don’t know me or anything, and this might be a weird thing for me to ask, but I’m a huge fan of Why?. Like, super huge. Like Beatles-maniacal. I’ve been listening to his music for years and years and this is the first time seeing them. You’re probably a big fan too, and I understand that, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say I’m a bigger fan than you are, and if you really disagree we can fist fight about it if you want. There was this time when I was fifteen and I thought I was going to be a dad and the only music I would listen to was theirs, so you know.”

“What are you talking about? Who’s Why??”

And like that, I was touching the stage. Right up front! Then the unthinkable happened… All semblance of control dissolved into a pool of sweat when I saw Yoni walk on stage to set up. I was jittery again, but not jittery like I’d ever been before. It was like I’d fallen asleep in a jitterbug nest during mating season near an Adderall factory. I had super-jitters. What was I supposed to do? He was right there! I tried to remember the plan. “Sneak, speak, leak and freak? Yell, smell, show and tell?” What was it?! So I did the only thing I could do:

“Hey Yoni! Yoni! Hey Yoni!” I yelled. He turned around.

“Hey Yoni!” I called again, waving. “Are you going to be around after the show?”
“Um, Yeah, I think so.” He responded, turning back around to set up his drums. I stood there for a moment, giddy and smiling.

“Hey Yoni!” I yelled again. “I have a present for you!” He nodded and went back to his drums. I was silent a while.

“Hey Yoni!” He turned around one last time. “It’s a book!”

I, like an erection, stood there tall and anxious for what was coming next. The girl next to me tried to make small talk about Why? with me, and I knew we were soulmates, but there was no time for soulmates Not today. Why?!

It was flawless. We rapped, we sang, and someone threw their panties on the stage. It was everything I’d hoped for plus panties. When it was all over, the crowd dispersed as I headed over to the merch table with my potty-protected backpack to buy a shirt and meet Yoni.

I approached him, nervous and fumbling with no idea what to say. This was the moment I’d been looking forward to since high school. I knew I had to be suave. I had to be calm and not seem too eager to talk to him, lest I come off as a creeper. Or maybe he would like that?

“I have a present for you.” I said, handing him my favorite book.
“Great! You… stole it from a library.” He said
“Yep!”
“Well, that’s… I’ve needed a new book.”
“Perfect!”

We looked at each other in silence for about four seconds before I couldn’t take it anymore and walked away. I don’t know if our first encounter could have gone any better or worse, but there was still time. We’d meet again one day and cry together in the Veggie Heaven bathroom. That I knew for sure.

***

Thursday

Best Friends Forever is a band that Train Girl introduced me to. I listened to them in Pearland and both Philip and I fell in love. A little more than a month later, when I found out they were playing SXSW I lost my shit and memorized every song of theirs I could find on the internet. Philip was upset that he couldn’t make it to Austin see the show like we’d planned, so, with the show the day of his birthday, I came up with a plan to hopefully ease the pain of having to miss it.

I rode over to ‘Don’t Tell Mom Fest’ where I found BFF sitting in the shade. I introduced myself and honestly explained the situation to them. Something like “My friend really wanted to see you, but is dealing with the death of a loved one. But, anyway, today is actually his birthday and I was wondering if there was any chance you would sing him ‘Handpocket’ over the phone…”

They looked at each other and all generously agreed! I called Philip as we walked away from the crowd, realizing that I probably should have called first to make sure he wasn’t busy.

“Hello?”
“Hey Philip, you’re not busy, right?”
“No, why?”
“I have a surprise for you!”

I held out my phone as they sang him the cutest song on the planet. It was two minutes of refraining from my growing desire to squeeze them in my arms and that feeling you get around a kitten so adorable that you just want to eat it. When they finished, I thanked them and put the phone back to my ear to wish Philip a happy birthday.

A while later he sent me a text that read:

“That was seriously the best present anyone’s ever given me. Thank you so much. I love you.”

Then I sat down at an awkward distance away from the band, unsure how their favor shifted the dynamic of our relationship. Were they expecting me to expect to hang out with them now? I had no idea. I wasn’t even going to be staying for their set. I had to rush back south to see Why? again. Was that entirely rude of me? What if they hated me because of that? I was starting to stress myself out when Philip sent me some exciting news.

“I was pooping when you called me.”

***

Friday

There was only one show on my list that there existed a possibility of my not seeing it. Tilly and the Wall were playing a 21+ show at







Day 4 – Saturday (Waterloo Park), Kimi, Two Gallants,

Day 5 – Matt and Kim (twice!) Drunk person, Deathcake

***

Virgin, Virgin, Virgin!

I met Susie at Food Not Bombs. A week later we rode together at Critical Mass, and then went to Dhaba Joy for dinner. We were friends fast. One night I missed my bus home and ended up sleeping in her bed. A few nights later it awkwardly happened again. How I ended up living her dorm room, though, neither of us is entirely sure.

It started innocently enough. She had a boyfriend and I had an imaginary girlfriend. Soon, though, like Austin does, things progressed. She broke up with her boyfriend and I wasn't actually dating anyone, so it wasn't weird that we started spending every day together. We'd ride our bikes around or go to Veggie Heaven, and then head back to her house and eat cookies until we fell asleep on her twin-sized bed. They were great days.

She wanted to have sex with me, and I can't blame her. No one could. But I hadn't ever had sex before, I wasn't sure if I wanted to. Not yet, anyway. Especially not after what happened in tenth grade…

You see, if you don't count the girl I kissed for money when I was ten, Brace Face was my first girlfriend. We had met online (a motif in my life), and began talking everyday well into the school nights. She was a freshman at my 'rival' high school and was the sister of a girl I also had a crush on. Even as a tenth grader my love life was complicated. After a few weeks of chatting, several e-mails, and one terrible movie about vampires with swords, we were officially "going out."

Things were great. I'd see her on weekends and I even started attending church as an excuse to spend more time with her. Soon I became part of the family; the short, frail son they never had. We got along so well and it seemed like the perfect relationship, as all tenth grade relationships do. Then, nearly a year later, there was that terrible, terrible evening. May 28, 2004. I remember it well, as I replayed it thousands of times in my head.

Her parents were upstairs and her sister was in the computer room. I don't remember where the dogs were, but we were sitting on her couch with a blanket over us, pretending to watch The Matrix: Revolutions. As pubescent teenagers with raging hormones and sexual curiosity, what we were really doing wasn't hard to guess. She had given me a hand job, and then I called my mom to pick me up. It could have been any other night. But something was different.... I could feel it.

My mom was late and Brace Face looked more dissatisfied than usual. While we were waiting to hear the obnoxious double honk of my mom's car, we walked into the laundry room where, innocently enough, we began to kiss. Almost immediately we entered horny teenager mode again. Clothing was removed, and our not yet sixteen year old bodies moved closer. Intensifying, in the dark, secluded room, there was almost penetration. Almost. That is to say, it was close enough to where any fluids or previous orgasm's residue could have been exchanged, but we never had sex. After my mom had picked me up and we returned home, I went into my bathroom with the sickeningly pale yellow lights and booger-covered wall to pee. It was there that I discovered some sticky residue on the tip of my penis. It could mean only one thing.

"SHIT SHE'S PREGNANT"

I called a sleeping Brace Face immediately and requested she wash out her vagina. That made sense. She mumbled something like ‘yes’ and went back to bed instead. The next day I called her to make plans to meet up to discuss a pressing matter. As we walked her dog through a park, I explained the completely legitimate fear that she was carrying my child and that our lives were ruined. She wasn't worried, but the more I talked about it, the more fear I instilled in her. I was glad. Why should I have been the only one worried?

The 'morning after' pill seemed like a great idea. She even agreed to take it. Planned Parenthood, though, has never been on my side.

"Forty dollars? Are you serious?" My voice shrilled, still not yet a man. It seemed I couldn't call my mom at work without hearing "Your daughter is on the phone," but I was virile enough to impregnate every fourteen year old in town. My life was already over, I figured. What was stopping me? With no money to pay for the pill, I resorted to the second best method to prevent pregnancy known as "fingers crossed."

The next week consisted of vomiting, dry heaving, and staying up all night crying on my black, booger covered futon. I started summer school across town, and every morning I would envy the other kids as they stepped into the bus. They didn't know what hardships were like. They weren't going to be sixteen year old fathers. One morning, my thoughts of suicide were interrupted by the kids behind me talking about weed or something. I turned around angrily and shouted "YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE REAL WORLD." and put my headphones on.

Brace Face’s family was very Christian, and the possibility that they'd make us get married seemed all too real. Clearly abortion was out of the question... but maybe adoption? What was the Christian view on adoption? I knew for sure I would have to join the army and give up rollerblading to be a dad. My life couldn't have been any worse.

In class it was all I could think about. I couldn't concentrate. How could I have been so stupid? I didn't mean to get her pregnant. Maybe her parents would understand how innocent it was. We didn't have sex, after all. I would be sure to tell them that we didn't have sex. It would be my opening and closing statement, I thought. The possibility that the conception was immaculate seemed slim, but not out of the question. I decided this would be my strongest defense.

More nights crying, waiting and hoping for that next menstruation. What seemed like the enemy at first was now my only hope, not unlike John Bender in The Breakfast Club. Soon, like all people in desperate situations, I began to pray to a higher power. I prayed desperately, begging for mercy and the opportunity to graduate high school. I prayed to the only god I was familiar with and I swore that if she wasn't pregnant, I would be a good Christian and go to church every Sunday, no matter what.

Prayer, tears, a shrunken stomach and blackened eyes... I couldn't take much more. I was going to kill myself waiting to find out if I should kill myself. Then it finally happened. I was at a Youth Leader's house one afternoon when I got an e-mail from a very unpregnant fourteen year old away on vacation. "Guess what came..." She said.

Uh, not me ever again? Not on purpose, anyway.

Four days later, on my sixteenth birthday, and I woke up from my first wet dream. It was about Cameron Diaz having sex with me and becoming a werewolf. Surely it was a sign. Sex is weird, hairy, and transforms you. The next morning you need a shower and wish you could go back in time. Yes, that made sense. From then on (for approximately two years), I was a devout Christian. I might have been sickly skinny from not eating, but at least I wasn't a father. Plus, God loves fasting.

I remembered all of this every time Susie climbed on top of me. I was still scared of being a dad. Even more scared of not losing my virginity to my imaginary ex-internet-girlfriend. I thought doing such would symbolize my transformation into a new person with a new life. And maybe Ex-Internet Girlfriend planned to lose it to me as well, and I would ruin what would have been an unforgettable, indescribably significant dance where our souls two became one and the shared euphoria could only be described in mutual, uncontrollable groans. I was certain I would lose all chances of the life I envisioned with her if I didn't wait. So I tried. I waited and waited and waited. It was something like two weeks before that forgettable morning. Still groggy and tired on her twin-sized bed, I woke up to a wrong number calling early in the morning. After I hung up I turned to Susie and mostly jokingly offered to have sex.

"Really?"
"No. Well ...Actually, yeah, sure. Why not?"

I was horny and indifferent. The indifference remained throughout, however. All I could think was "This is it? This is sex?" I was so upset at everyone. And disappointed. I was mad at myself for having a significantly less spectacular moment than envisioned, and I was mad at the media that convinced me that sex was groundbreaking and life-changing. I didn't think that first times were inherently magical or anything, but at the time I had planned to make it at least worthwhile. If I was a character in a movie, as I often thought myself, phenomenal sex was in my tentative script. When it was all over, I think we went back to sleep, then did it again when we woke up later that morning. I don't remember. Who could? It got better over time, though.

Living in Susie's dorm room became unquestionable at that point, and the days of decreasingly disappointing sex, cookies, and Veggie Heaven began to blur into one of the best months of my life.

***

A Prontosaurus

There was one day I had an idea so amazing that even I was jealous of myself thinking of it first. It was the day that I'll undoubtedly remember for the rest of my life as being the pinnacle of my existence. It was the day I noticed that my bicycle was kind of shaped like a dinosaur.

“If were to find some cardboard and some glue…” I wondered.

I was going to turn my bike into a dinosaur.

My bike into a dinosaur.

This was the best idea of anyone's life.

Susie and I went on a trip (business AND pleasure) to Hobby Lobby to liberate some glue, and then dragged some large pieces of dirty cardboard back to her dorm. She helped me cut out the pieces and I excitedly zip-tied them to my frame with a Parkinson's-like precision. By the end of the night my bike was a decapitated, colorless Prontosaurus. As I sat on it in Susie’s dorm, I couldn’t help but wonder at all the glory that was soon to follow.

”There he goes…” They’d say. “The boy who rides ten-speed dinosaur.”
”Where do you think he’s going?” a small girl asks her father.
”Some say he just rides around. Others say that if he goes fast enough, if he reaches that tenth speed, he’ll travel back in time to reign as king of the dinosaurs. Others say Wheatsville. Nobody knows for sure…”The little girl stands solemn, staring stoically into sunset.

But that didn’t happen (I don’t think). One day outside of Dhaba Joy, a woman in a motorized wheelchair backed into my bike and bent the exoskeleton. The exodino. Then when a rainstorm came and I hadn’t yet waterproofed it, I chalked up another painful failure on the list. All that was left was some soggy cardboard and the heartbreaking noise my Prontosaurus made as it rubbed against my wheels. SSSHHHHHHH... Like my dream balloon deflating.

Days later I came to terms with what could only be described as the worst thing to ever happen to anybody in history. "At least you still have your health." Someone might say. Well… I GUESS.

***

Mrs. Adventure!

Looking back, I don’t think it was the first time I had MRSA. It was, however, the first time I had been hospitalized.

When I first moved to Austin I was riding my bicycle everywhere on a seat with virtually no padding. When I got little pimples on my butt, I didn’t think anything of them. I was dirty and sweaty and that was to be expected. Then it got to the point where I couldn’t sit on my left butt cheek without wincing pain. I went into the bathroom with a mirror, needle, and bottle of alcohol, where I found a large, red, infected mound. I poked, squeezed, and yelled at those little bastards for five days. Eventually I was able again to sit on the entirety of my butt and pretend to look for a job online, as had been the unspoken conditions of living in Montgomery’s house (before I moved out). Had I learned about the potential severity of my infected butt cheek, though, I might not have nearly lost my leg.

I was living at Susie’s house when it happened… I was at the skate park one day trying to get my blade on, when I attempted a maneuver that was completely within my skill level, but one I failed anyway. I slammed my shin into angle iron from about six feet away and limped to the bus stop home. Something about being in pain makes me really nice to people, so when the bus driver told me that it was free to get on, I thanked him like four times. Turned out it was just a free bus.

“Yes, but I want you to know I am grateful. Really grateful. I mean it.
”Okay.”
”I mean it.”

Because it was an all-girl’s dorm I was living in, I couldn’t just saunter in and out of the showers about the showers exchanging high fives and quick kisses. I didn’t shower that night, nor did I clean my injured leg. I rarely ever cleaned my wounds. Ten days later it was Susie’s nineteenth birthday. There was a party/potluck being thrown for her a few miles away, and as we rode our bikes, there was a painful pressure in my shin every time I pushed down my left pedal. I brushed it off as severe bruising, but a little while later at the potluck, as we all sat in a circle, a loud, drunk man wearing an army jacket noticed my leg and told me I was going to die. He told me it was an infection and that it was going to kill me pretty soon. Within hours. He had almost lost his fingers because of something called 'MRSA', and that he was going to find a razor blade and cut me open or I would die.

I wasn’t scared.

A few moments later, Susie and I were sitting in the emergency room listening to the voice on the speaker demand that “The pizza delivery man please not leave the building. I repeat: Will the pizza delivery man please not leave the building.” Then, when we were called into see the doctor I learned I had what medical professionals commonly refer to as “a possible left leg.” We stared at him, and then he told me how stupid it is to be vegan.

“I could say a lot of things about your mom,” he said. “But I would get fired.”

Susie and I stared at him for a while longer, and then we stared at each other. Then back at him. “Are you kidding?” I asked. It was quiet for a while before he looked me in the eye and said “Where I grew up, we shot our dogs.”

We laughed nervously.

***

Two nights later I ended up in another emergency room after being told that I had been severely neglected and that my shin needed to be lanced immediately. I wasn’t surprised. “We’ll lance it as soon as the painkillers kick in,” the new surgeon said. But the pain killers never kicked in. It was “too swollen,” he told me. I closed my eyes and bit into some wood as an incision was made. It hurt, yes, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected. Blood and puss gushed out like a fountain at some sort of Hot Topic prom. Then the surgeon reached for the scissors.

Probably just to cut the gauze, I told myself. He brought them down to incision. Probably just to cut anything but my leg.

”Oh god…”

It was single-handedly (literally) the most painful experience of my life. I could feel every centimeter of my flesh being sliced in two as he cut what seemed like a mile up the inside my leg, separating once my once inseparable fats and skin. I felt the steel move against the friction of my meat. The dissection of every nerve was as noticeable as the mounds of bloody paper towels to my left.

”There’s a little bone right there.”

I wanted to puke. It hurt so bad. Inconceivably bad. All I could think about was the pain. Nothing else mattered but how much I wished I didn’t have legs. In a microsecond, I imagined a parallel universe where no one had legs and everyone had wings. Then I realized that “this is what childbirth must feel like when babies accidentally come out of your leg.” Things got blurry and I turned white as my body went into shock.

”Bummer time, bummer time, it’s bummer time – Buuummer!” was on repeat in my head. At some point the extra painkiller I’d been given must have took effect, because suddenly I was on a bed somewhere with a woman I didn’t know. I decided I didn’t trust her. She asked me if I had insurance and I asked her about Sigmund Freud. She asked me if I had any money on me, and I told her that neither of us knew enough about Freud to have a worthwhile conversation. Instead I began to talk about why I disliked Christianity. She asked me what my full name was and I demanded that the pizza delivery man please not leave the building. Then I told my godmother to call “Suzy the Fluzy” right away and tell her I was in the hospital. "Tell her she's a floozy," I said. “Tell her I said that!” Then I went to sleep. It was a hellish night.

The next morning I received phone calls from people I hadn’t talked to in months and all my friends in Austin came to visit; each brought a bag of cookies. Susie rented The Lion King from school, but wasn’t supposed to take it from the library. She was fined $30 and we didn’t even get to watch it. Hospitals are the worst.

For three days there were frequent gauze-removals and stuffings. A whole roll was shoved into my leg as antibiotics were pumped into my arm. And for whatever reason the painkillers made me extremely aroused. Eventually, though, I walked out the doors erection-free and the horizon shone bright as I went back to Susie’s and gorged myself on Uncle Eddie’s cookies. Susie always paid for our cookies, which was really convenient, because a couple weeks later I got a few envelopes in the mail. Bills. ”Twelve-thousand, four hundred and fifty-eight dollars? Is this a joke?” I threw the envelopes in the trash and sat back down.

"You can't just throw those away. You have to pay the people who treated you," said my Godmother.

”Where I grew up, we shot our dogs.” I responded.

***

Critical Massacre

I’ve been to jail. I know what it’s like on the inside. It hardens you. I’m like stale bread now. Sometimes people ask me what jail is really like and I tell them the truth. The cold truth. The truth no one really wants to hear. Do you want to know the truth? It’s boring on the inside. And also it’s cold. It’s really cold. They seriously turn the air conditioning all the way up and then they take your shoelaces. And the worst part is the laughter. There’s no end to the laughter when they hear that you were arrested for riding your bicycle.

It was my third time riding in Critical Mass. During my first ride, I yelled “this is way better than sex!” (or what I imagined sex to be like) for no reason at all, which raised a few eyebrows, but mostly left heads shaking in disappointment or embarrassment. During my second ride, I asked Susie on a date. And later when we were separated, she came looking for me, saving me from “cheap beer and cheap women.” We became best friends because of that. On my third ride?

Six other people up front with me made a brilliant right turn, which, to our surprise, was not recognized as such by the other 194 people who went left.

”Crap.”

We turned around to catch up, but by the time we got onto that two-lane street, the cop had already exited his perpendicularly parked police cruiser and was hassling people who were riding along the bike lane. Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, in the opposite lane, five or six bikers rode past the car unhassled. I think it was a combination of the music coming through my headphones, the general rush of adrenaline that Critical Mass brings me, and the fact that there was an entirely open, cop-free path to continue cruising on that made me start pushing my pedals harder. I was going to speed past the cop car in a defiant, daring capade, laughing as I disappeared into the mass. Yes, this is exactly what I would do.


***

When I arrived at the jail,

**

Lunar Mart

Lunar Mart is a vegetarian Mexican restaurant I applied at before I was hospitalized. Being both vegetarian and from El Paso, I felt I was more than qualified to work there.

”Do you speak Spanish?” The manager asked during my interview.
”Well, I am from El Paso.” I replied confidently.
”So… yes?”
”...No.”

But a few days later I got a hopeful phone call.

"Is this the Elfy kid with whispies?”
”Eee-…Yes?”
”Can you start working on Monday?”
”Absolutely! Who is this?”

I was officially employed, sort of! Susie and I decided to celebrate with Veggie Heaven. Her treat, of course. I was still broke. Dhaba Joy ruined me. But it wasn't a problem. In fact, my only problem now was work attire. I don’t think I could show up to work in red pants and scrubs, which were basically my only clothes. I liberated a shirt from Goodwill, and then there was some long ordeal over borrowing pants from a friend’s friend. Susie ended up outside some random apartment at 2AM asking people if they were who she was supposed to meet. ”You know, for the pants?” She asked. I started my first week in a thin white V-neck that showed my nipples and some large, borrowed black pants with a belt that barely held them around my waist.

One night I was washing them at my new friend Eric’s house. I put all my pants and shirts in a box and we headed downstairs so he could drive us back to the dorms. When Susie and I got into bed, I jumped up in a panic, realizing that I didn’t have my box of clothes. I tried to retrace my steps and figure out where I misplaced them. Let’s see… We walked downstairs, past the spider web, then around those scary moths… and then I put the clothes on top of the car…

OH MY GOD.

FUCK.

My clothes were on the freeway. I knew they were. I had left them on top of the car and now trucks were running over my borrowed pants as I sat there mindlessly eating worry-cookies. Worry-cookies are just regular cookies, except you don’t enjoy them as much because you’re worried (simple!). I called Eric nine-thousand times, but he wasn’t answering his phone. I thought there was a slim chance the clothes made it the whole drive back to his house. And Eric got out, saw them, and took them upstairs. Maybe he folded them. Maybe he would meet me at work the next morning and surprise me with them! At 3AM we were woken up by a call. Eric had my clothes and would appreciate if we didn’t call him 26 times in a row again. Another Laundry Day miracle.

***

Lunar Mart didn’t give me a schedule or train me at all, so I kind of just showed up every day and juiced oranges. It was a pretty sweet gig. Because I was without a schedule, I decided that I didn’t work weekends. They seemed to have done alright without me. Every morning I’d sneak out of Susie’s dorm at 6:30, tensing as my heavy, steel bike thumped every stair on the way down. As I rode downtown I’d cut off cars and tell them to get off the road. It was always fun. Then, at work, I’d sneak old pastries into my bag. Every night became chocolate-chip-muffin-night. Just when I was beginning to enjoy this whole 'working' thing something awful happened. Something that changed the way I felt about it forever: These people kept coming inside. I don’t know who let them in, but it certainly wasn't me.



One woman came in and looked at the breakfast menu, then told me she’d be back for lunch. “Okay.” I told her.

”I don’t need a menu, I have one at home.”
”Okay. You have one at home?”
”Yeah, a to-go menu.”
”We don’t have to-go menus.”
”Well I have one.”
”Well, I don’t believe you.”
”That’s fine. You don’t have to.”
”Fine.”
”Fine.”

She walked out the door and I smiled as she drove away, half-wondering if she was actually offended. A few minutes later the manager walked up to me and with the help of a translator, I was told that a woman had just called to complain about me.

”She said you didn’t believe she had a to-go menu.”
”That’s true, I didn’t.”
”Next time you need to believe her.”
”…”
”Be careful next time.”
”Is this conversation a joke?”

I looked at my co-worker who was translating everything. He looked at the manager, who shook her head, then turned back at me.

”No.”
”Um… Well, I can apologize I guess, but I don’t think she’s coming back for lunch.”


One man in particular made me very uncomfortable. He was a regular. An Apache man who wore feathers in his hair and fringed, beaded, leather vests. The first time I saw him, he approached me, looked at me and asked me for “huevos rancheros.” I asked him if he wanted it ‘to-go’, and he glared at me and said “I’m not talking to you.” He looked to the kitchen window and yelled “Victoria! Huevos rancheros por favor!” I stood there puzzled and juiced more oranges.

A few days later he called and placed an order for pick-up.

“Lunar Mart.” I answered.
”It’s me; I want an order for pick-up.”
”Okay.”
”It’s me, the Indian guy”
”Um. What would you—“
”I want my usual.”
-click-

I stood there a little bit, then looked around to see if maybe someone was playing a joke on me. I wrote down “The usual for the Indian guy” on a ticket and brought it to the kitchen window. They said something about me in Spanish. That language barrier was killer during rush hours. Half an hour later, the Apache man came and was genuinely angered that I didn’t have his order ready. Then he yelled something to the window that wasn’t ‘huevos rancheros’ as I suspected it might be. ”Next time you should tell me what you want.” I said to him. He didn't respond.

The last time I saw the Apache man was toward the end of a shift one day. He came in and this time told me what he wanted. Feeling that it was time to befriend him, I tried to make small talk while writing down his order.

”That’s a nice tattoo.” I said, not really able to see it.
”It says ‘Apache.’” He said, lifting his sleeve up. I looked at it a while, trying to think of something to say.
” …Old English huh? That's kind of ironic.”

He didn’t look back at me. Not even when I gave him his order. I don’t think he ever looked at me again, which was okay with me.

***

I worked with two people at Lunar Mart. They were Samurai Hair and Dumb Hair.

Samurai hair and I shared nearly the same taste in music and he was my translator when I needed to talk to anyone else who worked there. He even helped me sneak old pastries after the managers decided I couldn’t have them anymore and that they “belonged in the trash.” I thought he was in high school the whole time I knew him. He turned out to be twenty-four.

Dumb Hair was dumb and so was her hair. I had seen her at the other Lunar Mart location before I worked there. She was sweeping one night as they were closing and I stopped eating my waffles to tell Susie: “That girl has dumb hair and I hope I never have to work with her.” Then she and I watched as some guy took pictures of her butt with his cell phone. One afternoon Dumb Hair approached me and told me she had a big problem.

”I’m having trouble deciding between my boyfriends." She said. "The one I like is mean to me and the other is a pussy, you know, because he’s white.”

I nodded and walked away. A week or two later she approached me again with dumber hair than before.

”Do you believe in witches?” she asked.
”No.”
”My friend is a witch.”
”Okay.”
”What if you met her?”
”…”
”Do you believe in God?” She asked again.
”Um…which god?”
”You know, God?”
”Uh, not really, no.”
”You don’t?! You’re going to Hell…”
”I don’t really believe in Hell either.”
”You don’t believe in Hell? You’re going to hell.”

I juiced more oranges. I juiced a lot of oranges.

There were days I would go home completely exhausted, with a backpack full of orange peels, and wonder if everyone's job was like mine. I will never understand people who defend employment. Or skunk hair.

***

My New Old Room Mate: Michael

May meant a lot of things. It meant rich college kids were throwing out all their things and there was no better time in the world to dumpster dive. I got a brand new blender and Susie got a big jar of cherries. Life was good. Life was so good. But it wouldn’t be for much longer. May also meant I was homeless again. Susie was moving back with her parents and my life in the dorm was being taken from me just as quickly as I had moved in.

I considered my options: Move in with my friends… but I’d have to pay bills. I could find an apartment on Craigslist… but I’d have to pay rent. I could live outside… free, yes, but it was getting hot.

”Susie, ask Eric if I can live with him.”
”Why don’t you ask him? He’s right here.”
”Susie. Look. Just ask him.”

And like that, I had found a new place to live.

Eric lived in a four-bedroom, dorm-style apartment near Lunar Mart. Across from his bedroom lived a courteous black woman who was rarely home. Next to her bedroom was the vacant one with unlocked door that I’d soon move into, and across from that was the mysterious, locked bedroom that belonged to Michael, a man who disappeared without saying a word three months prior.

Eric had considered calling the police, or trying to contact his parents, but never really got around to it. That was fine with me, though. It meant one less person to be upset about me living there for free.

Then, as if things could possibly be better than a free apartment, Eric told me that he was leaving for two weeks in Europe and that I’d have the place more or less to myself. I also needed to eat all his food before it went bad. Pinch me, I'm vegan!

The next day I smiled gleefully as I stepped out of my curtainless shower, onto the slippery wet floor -onto my slippery wet floor - and rode my bike to work. There were daily trips to Dhaba Joy and I’d come home with a book, a bike, and a bag full of pastries. I started doing this every day. Life couldn’t have been more pleasant.

Then one dark, humid night, the unexpected happened right there in University Estates. It was around midnight when we heard a faint knock at the door. Eric walked over and looked through the peephole and then turned around dramatically with his back and palms on the door.

”Oh my God, it’s Michael.” He said to himself.

Eric opened the door and Michael hurried inside the house, pacing in front of me from one side of the room to another.

”Oh my God, where have you been?” Eric asked. “You’ve been gone for a really long time… And you owe me a lot of money.”
”I was in Kansas!” He said. “Chasing tornadoes!”
”…You were what?”
”I was in Kansas chasing tornadoes -- they kidnapped me!”
”…What? You were kidnapped?”
”Yeah, they were holding me for ransom, but I escaped.”
”Who was holding you for ransom?”
”I don’t know, but they tried to give me a lobotomy.”

Eric stayed quiet, looking very uncertain.

”They gave me a chemical lobotomy, but I escaped from them. I think they’re after me.”

Then Michael noticed me on the couch. ”Hi I’m Michael.” He said, extending out his hand.
”Holy shit!” I accidentally exclaimed. ”I mean, uh, I’m Michael too” I told him, wondering if it was a good time to bring up the pun.
”What are you doing here?” He asked accusingly.
”I’m --”
”Do you live here?” He asked, interrupting.
”Uh, sort of. I’m staying here for a little bit.”
”Nice to meet you.” He said, extending his arm for another handshake.
”Thanks. I have to go to bed now. I have work tomorrow.” I left the room as fast as I could, locked it, and kneeled at the door to listen.
I could hear Eric, who had been getting very high just before Michael came, sit down on the couch across the room from Michael.

”I don’t like that there’s another Michael living here.” Michael said. “What if the government wants to get him and they come and take me instead? --Are you smoking marijuana? They’ll smell it in the smoke detectors and come arrest me for being near you.”

Then Eric tried in vain to convince him that it wouldn’t happen.

“The smoke detectors can’t tell anything and Michael is straight-edge," he said, somewhat inaccurately. "He doesn’t drink or do drugs or anything, so you don’t have to worry about him.”
”Yeah, but I want to adopt some kids.” He said.
”You want to have kids? I don’t know if---“
”Yeah, you know have some kids! Raise them right here.” He said, cutting Eric off. “But I don’t know if they’ll let me have kids because you’re gay. You’re gay aren’t you? Is he gay?” He asked, probably pointing to my bedroom door.
”Look, they won’t deny you kids because I’m gay, that’s illegal. And no, Michael’s not gay.”

I could tell from Eric’s voice he was getting really nervous.

”Have you tried to like girls? You need to try. ”
”Um…It doesn't really work like that.”
”I’m really afraid they’re going to arrest me because you’re gay. I was abducted by aliens.”

Eric stayed silent.

”I need to go to sleep. What happened to my room? Where are my blankets?” Michael asked, opening his door. I looked at my bed.
”I’ll just use my coat.” He said.

A door slammed and it was quiet for a while and I went to bed. Minutes later I heard a faint knocking. I opened my door to see Eric standing there terrified with holding a large kitchen knife.

”Can I sleep with you tonight?”

***

After Eric left for Europe, it was just Michael and I in the apartment. I learned he was very religious, “desperate for friends” and pretty much scared of everything. He’d frequently wake me up in the middle of the night because of a noise he’d hear at his third story window.

“I think they’re out there again. Will you check?”
”No. I need to go to sleep. I have to work in the morning. I have to juice oranges.”
”I’m really scared.”
”Okay. Fine. God damn it.”

Some nights he’d ask me to make dinner and then wonder where all the meat was. Most days he would try to spend time with me whenever possible. It might have been endearing if he hadn’t been thirty-eight. I had become a father figure for this man, and couldn’t help but feel guilty for being creeped out by the whole situation. He clearly had some mental problems. And I clearly had his computer.

”Well, see, I thought you were dead…”

Somehow the luxurious apartment I had to myself became a haven for this weird ‘Young Brother,’ relationship. He stole my belt and I ended up spending more time out of the apartment than in it because of him. Not because of the belt, but that definitely had something to do with it.

One afternoon when I went to check the apartment dumpsters for prizes, he begged to come with me. I was rooting through bags as he picked up old mops that were lying around.

”I’m keeping this one.” He said. “These are really expensive. I’ve seen these for around fifty or sixty dollars. I’ve seen them.”
”Alright.”

He stayed quiet, put it down said he was going home.

The next few weeks I tried to avoid him, and I think he sought friends at the church. He began to disappear for days, and I never asked where. I didn’t really care. I didn’t want to be a dad a nineteen. Especially when my son was twice my age. I had learned it was best to avoid all contact with Michael, lest he try to give me a lobotomy in my sleep. Or ask for his sheets back.

***

Nervous Breakdance

It was probably inevitable. It was probably only a matter of time before I broke down, ate bad tacos, and quit my job to compete in a Veggie Dog eating contest. These things happen to everyone.

I had been working at the restaurant for about two months, which, I felt, was an ungodly length of time to be working anywhere. I was showing up every day, spending most of my time there, and then going home to sleep so I could do it again. Days began to blur and the same faces came in constantly, asking me disheartening questions or telling me about things I would never care about.

"Tamales are perfect for Christmas," they'd say.
"Instead of a tree, my mom used to put up a giant tamale every year." I'd tell them.
"Really?" They'd ask.
"What can I get for you?" I'd say.

One day a woman walked through the door with a very vacant look on her face.

"Do you serve chicken salad?"
"We're a vegetarian restaurant."
"So you don't have any chicken salad?"
"No."
"I was just walking around looking for chicken salad."

These may seem like innocuous occurrences, and that's only because they were. But no one is happy slopping food on plates every day, and who just walks around looking for chicken salad? I wasn't getting much support from any of my fellow employees: Samurai Hair had been promoted to cashier and wasn't allowed to cross the imaginary line to my side of the store, which left me all alone to serve hungry yuppies while he swooned over Conor Oberst and Conor Oberst's hair. Dumb Hair had been moved back to the other store for some dumb reason. Probably her dumb hair. Plus, the managers weren't happy that I was taking the stale trash-pastries and eating them. "Why can't he just buy them? He has a job now." They'd ask each other.

With all of my friends being gone, I spent a large portion of my free time reading travel books and zines. I read story after story of people leaving everything they never wanted to follow their dreams and pursue what they really cared about. They were liberating and motivational, like outdoor compost toilets. They made me feel anxious about being weighed down by a job that I didn't like; about being in a city that just wasn't the same without Susie to go on adventures with. I really wanted adventure. I really wanted to stop juicing oranges.

Since January, when Train Girl changed how I would view eating (and other things) forever, I had been refining my food-liberation techniques for maximum effectiveness and style. I had been experimenting with what works well enough to feed you for a few days, and what works just enough to get you a couple Clif Bars for the afternoon. What had started out as novelty had soon become a hobby, then personal activism, and then developed into my attacks on the wage economy and any business that preferred profits over people. Somewhere in there, though, between ‘duty’ and ‘fun with friends’ came something like obsession.

I had become obsessed with shoplifting, which really doesn't sound nearly as cool as it was. I would spend my free time thinking of new ways to take food from grocery stores, and at night I would often dream about charming cashiers to seem less conspicuous. I’m not even kidding, I can recall at least four dreams where I may have been flirting with cashiers so they wouldn’t suspect me as I walked out, which is weird because I never flirt with anyone in person. It occurs to me that I might have my priorities backwards, but if kleptomania is wrong I don't want to be right.

It started out as just food, you know, just from big places. But as my skill and thought processes evolved, I absolutely had to take something from every store I went into. It felt wrong not to. Soy milk, ice cream, hair ties, bags... It didn't matter. Anything. Everything. If it was vegan it went into my bag. My notebook was filled with new ideas on to walk out with bags of food. Free meals were consuming my mind like a horror-movie zombie and the thought that I could probably survive on shoplifting alone seemed not only feasible, but dutiful.

When I wasn't thinking about stealing, I was constantly conscious an ever-looming tragedy. Specifically: my twentieth birthday. It marked not only the end of my teenage years, but it served to rub in my face that I had not accomplished anything at all and that my life was a already third over. On top of that, I heard that I would sleep through another third. That was two-thirds of my life already gone. I didn't need college math to understand that... And thanks to years of rollerblading, the latter third of my life would probably be spent in a wheel chair with pulp for knees. Turning twenty would be the worst thing to ever happen to anyone, but specifically me.

What was I doing with my life? When I wasn't waiting for the day to end, I was busy wishing the sun would never rise. It was as poetic as it was depressing. Things were getting worse every day. Then, one seemingly regular Sunday afternoon, it all came crashing down on me.

***

Friday night, I’d forgotten to take the tacos out of my backpack. Saturday night, I experienced what is called Divine Intervention and decided to eat those tacos. Sunday morning, I woke up with a fever and nausea like I hadn’t felt since tenth grade.

I stumbled bleakly around my bathroom for a bit trying to figure out if I was still alive. The shower curtain was missing for no reason and I took comfort in that. Then I lifted the toilet seat and fruit flies swarmed out like a shotgun blast, sending me across the room against the bathroom door. I lied on the floor for a while wondering what to do.

“Medicine. I need medicine.”

But what was the cure for the hand of God feeding you bad tacos? I dragged myself back into my bedroom, opened the closet door with my warm, feverish hands, and took out the only medicine I had. “Hydrocodone.” It was leftover from my hospital stint and now it seemed like my only hope for salvation. I took two pills and decided to go for a bike ride.

“Fresh air,” I thought.

I put on my scrub top, my whale pants, and my green, canvas purse, before heading slowly downstairs to my bicycle. I wondered where I could go that would help ease my suffering.

“Food Not Bombs,” I thought.

As I began riding down the street in the blazing, summer sun, I felt this strange tinge of doubt; like maybe taking painkillers while extremely feverish and then going to ride bikes in the heat was a bad idea. But I pedaled forward and brushed it off like a family of fruit flies in the bathroom.

“I feel better already?” I said. I think. “Wait, did I say that? OO-AAAH-O.”

Then things faded into fuzziness.

I don’t really remember anything after leaving my street, except that at some point I’d decided to quit my job, leave my rent-free apartment, and go on the grandest hitchhiking adventure the world had ever seen. I would live out of dumpsters and write an epic travel tale like all those before me, but slightly different! Then I would give it to people. Or sell it to a publisher. Or something. That wasn’t very clear. What I did know is that I had a religious experience. Now all I needed was a sign from the taco loving Lord. Or a stigmata. Just something to let me know that I was making all the right choices…

A few days later, I saw a flyer like no flyer I’d ever seen before. It advertised an event scheduled for almost immediately after my last day of work. This was a sign. Literally.

***

No Meat, No Mercy


***

Thumbs Up, Up and Away

The night before I left for my grand hitchhiking adventure, I ran into a friend of mine at a show. He told me that he had just returned from traveling with a friend, and that they had almost been raped at knife-point by a trucker. At some time in the night, the driver pulled off to the side of the road where he would attempt to sexually assault them under threat of death. The two screamed for help and miraculously managed to escape from the truck in time to run into oncoming traffic where they waved down a passing car and were driven to safety.

I didn't sleep that night.

It was a hot afternoon in the outskirts of Austin. I was sleepy and walking around with no idea what I was doing. More or less a virgin hitchhiker, I stood awkwardly around asking people if they were driving to Dallas. Some truck drivers laughed at me. Some scowled. Others just ignored me. Eventually I wandered inside where I made use of a napkin and pen. "Dallas." Simple, yet classy. Surely people would come begging me to ride with them. "I saw the napkin, man. Righteous!"

It seemed like days had passed before a minivan pulled up; a mother and three kids heading home from a water park.

"Excuse me." I grabbed my elbow innocently as I approached. "Are you heading toward Dallas by any chance?"
"…I am." she said, hesitant.

"Do you think I could get a ride with you up there?" I asked. "I make excellent company!" I followed through with a thumbs-up and smile. Classic Michael.
"I'll have to ask my companions."

Yes! Ask them. Oh, wait, the ten year olds? Ugh.

I went back to my spot near the trash can that I had come to call home. Was I ever going to get a ride? I needed to change my plan of attack. Maybe I should physically attack the drivers until they offered me a ride. Or maybe I'd have better luck if I wrote "won't kill you" on my napkin? Then there was the glorious moment when the woman in the minivan shouted to me with a smile and a wave. A ride at last! It had been what, almost an hour? As I stepped into the SUV I could feel a vague sensation begin to overwhelm me. I was stepping into the narrative of all those books I had read. And with the click of my seatbelt, I knew what was coming next. First stop: Adventure!

Actually, it was McDonalds. I sat in the grass and ate nuts. But the next stop? Adventure!

***

Dropped off at a truck stop in Dallas, I made the mistake of wandering around the lot for a while asking for rides. Twenty minutes later I collapsed in the shade with my new napkin sign in plain sight. A man with a poor attempt at a beard walked by and asked where I was from.

"El Paso, huh? I grew up there. You know the where the Whataburger is across from that big stone wall?"
No?
"Yeah!"
"I used to eat there when I was a teenager; fuck girls in the bathroom. You ever fuck a girl in a Whataburger?"
No?
”Yeah!"
Why did you say that? There's no turning back now.
"She came like thirty times!"
"Is that wall still up?" he asked, unimpressed.
"Uh... No? They… tore it down and put a new one up. Yeah. A fence. You know, metal?"

He was quiet for a while and then went inside.

Soon, another large, sweaty man approached. Silently, I decided not to ride with him even if he offered. He asked where I was going and then stayed silent a long time... Too long. It scared me. I think it scared him too. He told me to hold on and went inside.

Then the truck stop manager rushed out of the building with his angry finger pointed at me.

"I've heard several reports of a boy wandering the lots." I was insulted!
"Sir, it was more meandering than wandering."
"Just what are you doing?" he asked.
"Right now? I'm writing."
"Are you soliciting rides?"
"Uh, I'm just trying to get out of here."
"Get out of here, huh..?" He paused, probably reflecting days in his youth where he too just had to get out. "You can't be doing that out here…" Then an ominous air blew in as he said "It's not safe..." He walked back inside and I sat there terrified.

The large trucker walked out and gestured to follow him. Despite the introspective manager's advice, I followed him to the truck, wondering if I should just turn back and go home. I always back down in the face of adversity. Once, in second grade Dustin wanted to beat me up. I stayed home the next two days. He asked me where I was and I said I had been sick. But wasn't sick, I was scared. Sometimes I wish I had gone to fight him; I've never been in a fight before. Maybe I'm really good at fighting and just don't know it! Maybe I would have kicked Dustin's delinquent, bully ass and the whole school would have cheered. Christina Barajas would have 'went out' with me instead of throwing away the ring that I stole from my mom to give her. That kid from Lebanon would have stopped being funnier than me. Mrs. Telles would have given me all her McDonalds Disney peel-off game pieces, even though I took them anyway. Jonathan Fletcher wouldn't have suspected that I peed in my pants one day because the teacher wouldn't let me use the restroom. "Uh, I spilled root beer on my pants at lunch." Damn I was a clever second-grader. Man, life would have been sweet if I had just fought Dustin…

Oh shit.
I was inside the truck.
When the fuck did that happen?

"Put your stuff in the back," he said. I was hesitant and wanted to know why.
"Why?"
"Scales."
"Scales?"
"Just in case."

It sounded solid to me. I moved my stuff, feeling my ankle to make sure my knife was still secured in my sock. We began driving to Bumfuck, Texas; my phone without any signal. He told me his name and I forgot it immediately. What was mine?

"Uh… Sean." I said, thinking I was lying. I somehow neglected to remember that 'Sean' is actually my middle name.
"Sean huh?" He could tell I was trying to lie. "What does Sean do for a living?"
"Sean writes and rollerblades…" and, wait, why was I being honest? "And…I'm building a hovercraft?"

Oh my God.
Sean.
You are the worst liar in the world.

"Hovercraft, huh?" He looked at me, then his whopper, "Mm - I got me a few of those."
He does?
"You do?"
"I got a boat, too. Big one." I was less impressed; Was it a hoverboat?

"Just two more payments and it's mine."
Yes but does it hover?

He had to be lying. I thought maybe it was common knowledge that truckers and hitchhikers just lie to each other all the time and no one told me.
"I'm going to charter it and charge 'em to ride the crafts."

Wait a minute. He meant wave crafts. I knew meeting a trucker with a hovercraft was too good to be true. Right after he finished telling me a story about pulling over to cry after the Seattle bridge collapsed, escaping a fatal plummet by mere seconds, his other personality came out to visit.

"Call me Cornbread cause I'm headed to Texarkany with my southern 'dontgivafuck' attitude and I can't wait to get me some fee-ried chicken."

Wait, what? Did he really just say that? It was strange hearing him speak into the radio. His persona changed from a slow, miserable truck driver to this Cornbread character. It was a complete metamorphosis. A metacornphosis.

"Do you talk a lot?" Cornbread asked. I remembered the weekend prior when my friend's ex-girlfriend told me to 'Please refrain from any long conversation.'
"No. Not really." I answered, thinking about the time I had been given money to stop talking.
"At some point I'm going to need a nap," he said.
"No problem."
"You're going to have to sleep with me against the wall."
"Um, problem."

I lowered my hand near my ankle.

"I don't want to get robbed, ya hear? Only got one bed and if you're in it I ain't gotta worry."
"Uh…"
"Don't worry, I won't try nothing. I'm not one of those weird, gay truckers."
Oh… Good?
"I'm straight, you're straight, so you ain't got nothing to worry about."

Then there was an awkward moment.

"…You're straight, right?"
"Uh. Well, yeah." I said, pausing unintentionally.
"Good. If not there's a truck stop coming up."

We ended up pulling in anyway because he was falling asleep at the wheel. I walked out of the truck for a bit, and hours after I assumed he had left me, I glanced back and saw Cornbread pulling into the pump to fill up. He gave me a strange look as I approached.

"I got good news and bad news." he said.
"Bad news." I answered.
"I just got called back to Dallas."
"Shit. What's the good news?"
"I woke up! Ha ha ha!"

Damn it, Cornbread.

It was getting dark and for some reason I scared everyone I talked to. I was sure it was hopeless when something interesting finally happened. From the shadows of the cars and the depths of the parking lot came a hope in the form of an old man. An old man with a scam.

"I scam churches," He said. And for no real reason I was offended. I don't know why, that was awesome. "I go to a church and tell 'em I'm on my way home and need a little gas money to get there. They give me twenty dollars and some food and we do it again the next town!"

I was impressed, though slightly offended for some reason. He explained that the churches around here were "all dried up." And that he needed $20 get going. In return he would drive me to Nashville. I offered him a bean and cheese burrito that I had been given and we were off! One sketchy old man and his mentally handicapped sidekick who looked strangely similar to Dante from Clerks. It was kind of like Of Mice and Men?

Do I smoke? No, why?

Oh.

It was kind of like Of Mice and Men, but with chain-smoking.

***

The Sunrise in Arkansas was beautiful. Light beamed through trees like escaped prisoners while a bridge gave stillbirth to a river beneath us. Fog hid behind trees, dancing in the fields. It knows it can't play forever, but it's going to try.

***

"Welcome to Hope, home of the 267.7lb watermelon." It seemed appropriate. Abundance, wealth, watermelons: We were after it all. We were stopping in every small town between Texas and Tennessee and most churches were either unwilling or closed that day. What should have been an eight hour drive was turning into a day and a half trip of frustration and restlessness.

More churches and still no gas money. "Tell them you love god and stuff." They told me.

It was midday and they were hungry so we pulled into a Wal-Mart. "Stay here" Old Man Driver commanded. He was going to steal a battery and return it for some gas money. I lied down in the backseat and hoping he wouldn't be caught "boosting." We were in Arkansas and I didn't know if those people take kindly to non-whites stealing from their Wal-Marts. Or maybe I was stereotyping. Or both. He came back with a cordless phone battery and a package of weiners in his pants. "Go return the battery."

I stepped out of the van, hesitant to leave my stuff in there vehicle, lest Old Man Driver drive away while I was inside. I'd heard stories where that happens. Weary and foolish, I left it all in anyway and walked inside with waited in line a bit before the cashier looked at me and then the battery. Things were tense. I felt like a spy. "Do you want a refund or store credit?" she asked. I looked her in the eyes and knew it was my time to shine. "Refund," I tried to say casually, but it accidentally sounded sexy. "I'll need to see your ID." she said, also kind of sexy. But shit! What for? So you can turn me into the police? Ha! That was not going to happen. Paranoia had set in and I told her I hadn't brought my ID with me. I am a poor spy.

Still paranoid, panic set in when I got to the parking lot and didn't see the van. "Did they leave me?! Shit. Fuck! I'm such an idiot. FUCK! Do I call the police? They can't do anything! What do I do? Should I just go home? Damn it! Shit!"

Oh, there they were.

"I knew they wouldn't leave me. Why was I even worried? Sometimes my imagination is too vivid." I thought.

"That's okay. Here, have a hot dog." Juice dripped all over my bag as he handed me the upside down, near finished package of wieners.

***

It was the worst place I have ever been. Uneducated, gun-toting, flag-wearing, God-lovers in giant truck stop called a city. It's probably not ironic that Little Rock had the absolute largest church I had ever seen. Still, there is a lot to be said about a church of that magnitude. Things like the unforgivable amount of money spent on its construction; the unimaginable number of ignorant people who fill its stained-glass belly like pools of congregatorade; and most importantly, the very unchristian denial of gas money to a desperate twenty year-old. "How very Peter of you."

There was also a lot to be said about the restrooms. Holy shit! A family of three could comfortably live in there, while a party of twenty could comfortably pee in there. Now, I don't normally flush after peeing in public restrooms but there was something electric about doing it in there. Something dangerous. Something sinful. But a few hours later I saw a church bigger than any shopping mall I'd ever seen.

"They won't give us no money either!"
"Those fuckers!

I had become very involved in this scam, you see.

We were somewhere between Memphis and Nashville when Old Man Driver handed me the battery in another Wal-Mart parking lot.

"I want a cold drink. Don't care what kind..." Got it. I hopped out of the van, glancing at my phone and deciding to leave it charging. "We'll be over there," he said, pointing to a great, glaring mass of vehicles.

"Sir we haven't sold any batteries in three weeks. This wasn't purchased here. And where is return sticker? Where did you get this?"
"...My.. Mom? Uh…"

I was returning empty-handed again, but I was sure the guys would understand. They were totally cool. I considered shoplifting them some drinks. I mean, were driving me all the way to Nashville. I don't know why there's so much stigma around hitchiking. This was great! Free ride, free drinks... Hey guys, I couldn't return the battery, maybe we could go to a different Wal-Mart? Hey guys.





Guys?

***

I woke up laughing the next morning in a sheriff's station. I still can't believe that woman who walked around with me after being robbed offered me a ride to the bus station and then abandoned me too. Did this happen to every hitchhiker?

One Greyhound ride later I was in Nashville, without any of my things, unable to get a hold of anyone to pick me up. There I talked with a woman named Cotton. She gave me some money and let me use her phone. "I'm a Christian," she said. I offered her a banana. Then I remembered that video I had seen on the internet: the one where Kirk Cameron holds up a banana as proof that God exists. "The Atheist's nightmare," he called it. "See how it fits comfortably in your hand?"


***

Thrashville

I fell in love twice that night. Once with a girl in a striped shirt who played the flute who I could never work up the courage to talk to. The other? Well, we stole bicycles together and painted each other's faces. She ran in Joey's circle of friends and the next night she asked me to go eat something with her! Was it love? Later at Joey’s she stayed downstairs when everyone else went up to get high.

Yes, it was love.
It was wonderful, sober love.

There was a single blanket and a romantic movie: a recipe for smooching if I've ever heard one. Gradually we moved closer to each other and under the blanket, and to the sound of Jim Carrey's voice we attempted our first kiss. It was awkward and clumsy and I loved every minute of it. Hours blurred as clothing was removed and what happened next was, well, anti-climactic. The sun had risen and my stolen condoms had left us both unfulfilled. Within the hour I was supposed to drive a few hours to a rollerblading event in Alabama. The whole situation was very similar to one that happened in Kansas a year earlier...

I don't like telling this story because it makes me sound like a pedophile, and that's only because I kind of was. Kind of.

June of last year, I went on a week-long road trip to Kansas with two friends of mine. Our two objectives were to film a lot of tricks and go to Kansas City to skate with the best rollerblader in the world. Excited, I threw myself onto and off of everything I could find. I did this for several days, despite the advice of my friends to calm down. By the end of the week my muscles' screams were stifled only by the contusions that painted me purple. Physically exhausted; my mental capacity was quickly following suit as the two fifteen year-olds invited themselves into our hotel room/front half of a house refused to ever stop talking. Ever. We felt obligated to let them stay, I suppose, because the night before we had convinced them to go home and steal us food from their parents' kitchen. They came back with a pillowcase stuffed with snacks and a pair of rollerblades they took from one's brother.

It was five in the morning and they were still talking about how German they were, or how they were definitely not fifteen and that, in fact, we could trust them. We were supposed to leave for Kansas City at nine AM, I told them. I finally fell asleep, only to awake three hours later by a girl (who we later came to call That Crazy Cutter Girl) attempting to give me an unsolicited hand job. There were six other near-lucid people in the same room talking amongst themselves, well aware what was happening under my blanket. No one would dare speak of it, though. Now, I don't get to say this phrase very often, but when I do I really love to emphasize that it was the worst hand job ever in the world. For an hour and a half she tried, ending so very frustratingly when I said 'forget it' and got up to pee.

About two hours into the drive to Kansas City, I couldn't take the resulted blue balls anymore, and we pulled into a McDonald’s truck stop where I attempted to masturbate in the bathroom. Let me say from experience that there is nothing more erotic than a McDonald’s bathroom. The smell of anti-bacterial soap, sweat and "Big Macs" still arouses me to this day. In fact I can't get off without it.

I walked to the table where everyone had near-finished their food. "Did you do it?" they asked; all four companions staring at me. Their disappointment was confusing. I could barely walk straight by the time we got to the KC skate park. At some point I was stuck under a fence and somehow those girls had my phone number and wouldn't stop calling. It was ridiculous.

Fortunately, back in Nashville, my relationship with Sylvia (as I found out was her name) didn't end after that one day. It didn't end after she hit a car driving me to the store, or even when she thought I walked out in the middle of sex because she snorted. No, our relationship ended (sort of) with her coming into the Greyhound station demanding I stay. Seeing her and Joey standing there pouting was even better than seeing the Parthenon replica, which was also a little confusing. "For some reason they call Nashville ‘The Athens of the South’, even though there's already an Athens in the south."

As the bus pulled out of the station, I began to reflect on my time spent in Nashville and the weekend in Alabama where I was kissed by that guy I vaguely knew from the internet. I glanced out my window and saw the two standing on a wall, waving. I didn't think that goodbye could be topped until ten minutes later when they appeared speeding next to the bus, waving and honking.

I would have liked to stay but I had almost two-thousand miles to travel in thirty-sex hours. And a new Tilly and the Wall album to memorize.

***

I only talked to one person on that bus. He was a traveling carnival worker who asked about my plans. "A band, huh? You'll get laid left and right on tour with a band." I stayed quiet, thinking about how young the Peachcake audiences usually are. Then he gave me a look that begged me to ask what I thought I already knew the answer to.

"Sigh…So... do you get laid left and right working at the, uh, carnival?"
"OOOOHH YEAH!"
Really?
"Really?"
"All the time. Local women who want to drink with you after the carnival and the next thing you know you're kicking them out in the morning. Mostly married ones."

I began to wonder what kind of scumbag husband you have to be if your wife is cheating on you with carnival folk. Or maybe the wife is scum. Or maybe I'm just pretentious. Or both. I fell asleep before I could figure it out.

***

Getting Carefree with Mrs. Again

Sure it cost me the absurd amount of two hundred dollars to get to Arizona, but there is something wonderful about driving down the highway with the singer of one of your favorite bands, listening to the unreleased album, eating a vegan ice cream cone that you would later spill all over yourself. And besides, how often does Tilly and the Wall play with Peachcake? Once before, it turned out. But I couldn't wait. Two of my favorite live shows in one venue and I was going make it worth every dollar. There was one thing I wasn't anticipating, though... Sound problems. Broken amps. The show was terrible. All that money spent… But at least I got to talk to the Tilly merch guy! He liked my dancing so much that gave me a canvas bag of theirs I’d been eying. Two hundred dollars for a bag, though?

“Take some pins, too”

Worth it!

The next day I noticed pimple near a scrape I got somewhere in Nashville filming for a skating video. I then spent more than half of all the money I had left on a doctor visit to be told what I already knew. I bought some antibiotics and sat in the tour van staring at my empty Tilly bag. That two day excursion was a costly one.

***

The plan was to spend two days in Phoenix and then catch a ride to El Paso with an old friend named John. He was driving through Phoenix and another friend let me know John was going to be headed that direction. "Remember John?" Of course I did. He rules. I once spray-painted "JOHN RULES" on a shirt – That's how much he rules. I called John and we caught up, laughing at inside jokes, making plans to meet the next morning to make our way back to Texas.

The next morning he called me at 6 A.M. to wake me and tell me he was on his way. My alarm was set for seven and I had an hour to kill until he got there. I guess I'd drink some soymilk? Nope. All out. Maybe I'd check my e-mail? Nope. Computer won't work. "I'll just pace around for a while..?" Or, wait, I knew what I could do.

I don't consider myself vulgar. I don't think I need shock to make stories interesting. But when someone is masturbating in their favorite band's bathroom and his phone alarm goes off blaring the Can-Can at the exact moment he climaxes, well that's just a story that needs to be told.

Two hours later John finally found me. Except he wasn't John.

I mean, he was a John.
He wasn't my John.
He wasn't John Smith.

Apparently we had met once before, but I didn't remember him at all. Why did he laugh at my inside jokes? I guess it didn't matter. What did matter was that I was back in El Paso. Had they built anything new? Had it changed in the seven months I had been gone?

Not really.
Except... wait.
Is that…
Really…
A big stone wall?

***

Two Days in Smell Paso

Being back in El Paso was an experience of ambivalence, hot tubs, and arm-length burritos. Sure, the only vegetarian restaurant in town served ham sandwiches and pepperoni pizza, but at least bicycles were becoming popular. It blew my mind when I saw all that cyclist. El Paso: A Progressive City. “At least shoplifting would be easy,” I told myself.

"I'm going to have to check your bag..."

Well, At least my old bedroom wouldn't... smell like urine?

Ugh.

***

Peachcake!

Fort Worth

In Ft. Worth we were greeted by a girl with a cute haircut named Bridgette, whose mother, a school principal and longtime fan of the band, arranged places for us to sleep. When we walked in, laid out before us was a feast of Hook-like proportions. Everything was organized neatly into bountiful vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.

“Thanks for the…Smorgasborganization” I said. Everyone’s eyes stared cold.

No one gets me.

Bridgette told me about her dead father’s novel and her life's mission to get it published. It seemed like the plot of a movie I’ve never seen, but had.

That night was the first show I would ever officially be a part of. I was nervous and excited to get on stage. I stood on the side waiting for an okay from the drummer until I finally just ran up there and was introduced as the "magical wizard." Each fistful of confetti was one more reason I was glad I dropped out of college. I danced so much my toes blistered and bled. It took nearly an hour to sweep up after the show.

As we were undressing, two women in their thirties approached us, exclaiming "We love our gays!" and asked to take pictures. We tried to tell them that we weren't gay, but they refused to believe us. There's no way I'm straight? There's no way to reclaim your youth! Go watch Will & Grace, you presumptuous jerks.

***

Nebraska

The drive to Nebraska was one I've made many times before, and if you've ever been obsessed with a girl you hardly knew, you've probably made that drive too. When eight hours pass faster than the lonely, collapsed houses in the distance and the only other thing you can find yourself wondering is "who built all those stick and barbed wire fences?" But only momentarily.

It has been over two years since I kissed that girl one weekend in the spring, slow dancing under a pavilion at four in the morning in the seemingly scripted Texas snow. There hasn't been a day since that I haven't thought of her. This is the story of the girl I never actually knew, who got away, but not really.

We went to high school together. She was a cheerleader and I would read my bible in my free time during class. Once, I said we were engaged in the school paper. We really didn't start talking until January of 2007. We would e-mail each other nearly every day because she lived in Lubbock with her brother, who I suspect does not like me at all. Nine page letters turned to plans to visit. Then, after convincing my sister to take my place rolling newspapers, my good friend drove me six hours to see her that unforgettable Easter weekend. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I don't think I have ever been as happy as I was that night we kissed. Every hope and expectation was filled those two nights as we stayed up talking. Laughing. Hipping.

Everyday after Easter I wrote her letters that I would never send and paint her pictures that were never good enough. Amidst my infatuation with this girl I broke my best friend's heart. She called me in tears one day from school to tell me that I was a jerk. That was not unwarranted. I had become a pretty big jerk to her. We continued to e-mail each other, and although they became less frequent, she was still constantly on my mind. I would daydream about us moving to Austin, getting an apartment together, making cool videos together and living happily ever after. Our conversations changed the way I perceived the world. I stopped defending Christianity and stopped eating animals. I started to re-examine my beliefs and desires. I was becoming someone else and I loved it.

Soon enough, plans were made to visit her again, this time in Las Vegas. But mere days before I was supposed to purchase my bus ticket, she ignored my e-mails, resulting in several "Aren't-you-supposed-to-be-in-Las-Vegas-right-now's?" and a look of sad-puppy disappointment on my face. Perhaps missing-puppy would be more appropriate, as she didn't talk to me for two weeks because her dog disappeared. "You probably hate me now, don't you?" In fact, I started work on a second box of presents for her.

In addition to thinking in a new light, I began to feel different. I slept longer and became very irritable. Though I didn't pay much attention at the time, it was probably my new diet that was causing this. Who cared, though? I certainly didn't. I was either thinking about her, rollerblading, or reading some nihilist book. The world was quickly becoming a miserable place for me. Everyone I saw disgusted and offended me. Not Her, though. She was everything that I felt was left to be admired in the world. My infatuation was teetering obsession (which finally tottered when I decided I would lose my virginity to her) and as her birthday approached, plans were again made to visit. This time it would be for a week in Houston, despite the impending hurricane.

I rode with a trucker for my first time to Arlington, where I was picked up by some Samoans who would then drive me to Dallas. From there I would arrive in (supposedly) one of the dangerous cities in America, carrying her present in my hand the entire time. I was anxious to see her. Excited to hear her laugh. Eager to see her self-conscious smile. Wanting to brush my fingers against her buzzed head. I was far from El Paso and was finally going to meet up with Her. Life was great! Except for the part where she never answered my calls. Or my e-mails. Or my other calls. Or my other e-mails. I was heartbroken beyond words. For four days I sat on my ex-girlfriend's older sister's couch (whose home I was not welcome at) hoping She would call me. She didn't, though, and I shouldn't have expected her to. Hadn't I ever heard of foreshadowing? After being offered money to leave, I took a long, reflective bus back home. Or at least I pretended I did. It was really just a regular bus ride, except I was worried that she was trying to get a hold of me at that very moment.

"Not talking to her ever again" was a plan easier said than done, especially when a few weeks later I ended up standing right next to her up front for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in a festival of 40,000 people. It was awkward. It was really awkward. It was cripplingly awkward. I think it made me sterile it was so awkward. I was going to leave for water and never come back. I don't know if I can quantify just how uncomfortable I was.

”Soooo…”

She apologized a month later and we started talking again, sort of. We met up months later for lunch and ran into each other a few times in different cities in Texas. But we don't talk much anymore. That's probably a good thing. Still, as I sat there in the van, I couldn't help picture Her sitting next to me with her headphones on, drawing, glancing out the window on occasion, then turning to me to kiss me and tell me I'm cute.

Yes I've made that drive before. To this day I can't listen to Neutral Milk Hotel without wondering if will get over my internet-girlfriend.

***

Coincidentally, after the Nebraska show I met a girl that looked and sounded very similar to Internet Girlfriend. For no reason, I licked her face when she wasn't looking. Is that weird?


***

St. Louis

That day ended just as strange as it started. Around 5 AM I woke to an ocean of commotion when the van ceased most motion. Sometime during the night one of the trailer tires blew and I was told we didn't have a sufficient jack to repair it ourselves. To pass time waiting for the AAA man, we decided it would be a fantastic idea to run back and forth across the highway. It would only be appropriate that afterward we did handstands and posed in Mortal Kombat character stances. Then Bon Jovi almost drove off with our van. It was a long morning. Three hours later we were back like Kerouac. Then the other tire blew. I looked out the window at a nearby sign: "Sloppy Joe's Catfish Buffet?" Where were we? Just what the hell was going on? As if the day wasn't unpleasant enough, we ate lunch at the worst restaurant in all of Chillicothe. "I just paid seven dollars for a cracker with sauce and mushrooms on it? Are you serious?" As we were walking out I ended up running to the bathroom to vomit in the sink.

Later that day, when that group across the street started throwing rocks at Stefan and me, I probably should have taken it as a sign that the evening wasn't going to go much better than the morning. "Whatever you do, don't antagonize them," Stefan told me. I didn’t know where he got the idea that I antagonize large groups of people with rocks, but I took it as a compliment. A rock whizzed by Stefan's left ear and we decided we didn’t really need to go to the store.

"So what do you do in the band?" Asked one of the two fifteen year olds who kept looking at me and giggling. "Um…I kind of just dance around."

Really what I did was look ridiculous so people felt less ridiculous by comparison. I'm sort of an initiator of fun. A funitiator, if you will. You won't, though. Neither would they. No one ever does.

The girls stayed silent. "Do you two like to dance?" I asked.
"Oh yeah, a lot!" one said. I could tell she was lying.

Then the show started and a crowd of thirty or so had shown up. By the time the last song started, the group had dwindled to a mere seven. For some reason I thought throwing unnecessary amounts of confetti on people would make them stay. Hindsight! Unfortunately, the venue had no vacuum and was demanding that we clean every vibrant vestige of the attempted party up. I swept for an hour before I had had enough. I formulated a brilliant, fail-proof plan to escape. A daring plan. It would require precise timing and complete commitment. If it didn’t work I didn’t know what would.

I ran out the door.

But I wasn't the only one looking to escape. Later that night, at some small, smoky diner, the room went silent as we watched a stout, teenaged fry-cook with a 2x4 run out the door after Stefan and Mike who were walking some girls to their cars (probably protecting them from incoming rocks). In St. Louis, not paying your bill will get you threatened with wood.

***

Drew Carey Was Right, But Is Still an Asshole/Cleveland

Before sound check that day, Stefan and I went into a coffee shop downtown called Phoenix Coffee. It was there I encountered my soulmate with the blue beanie. I forget her name. In fact, I don't even know if we ever exchanged names. That's not the point. We were in love. At least I was in love with her. I walked over to the cushioned chair and told Stefan this.

"She's 98% vegan and I want to marry her."
"Why don't you invite her to the show?"
"Mostly because I'm afraid of girls."
"Really?"
"No."

I am, but approached the counter again anyway.

"Hello again!" I said with discomforting enthusiasm.
"Hi. Can I help you?"
"Yeah, uh….do you….um…."
"Yes?"
"...Recycle?"

We stared at each other and I went back to my seat. Classic Michael.

"Is she coming?" Stefan asked.
"I don't know."
"Go ask her!"

I walked back up to the counter once more, this time with a festival pamphlet.

"Hey, are you going to Ingenuity Fest tonight?"
"No, I'm being evicted."
"Oh …You should come anyway?"
"Well, realistically, I don't think I'll be able to make it, but if I can I will!"

I walked back to Stefan.

"Is she coming?"
"No, she's being evicted tonight."
"Evicted? …Sounds like a vegan."

***

The show that night, in the alleyway, started out with ten people and ended with a crowd of four-hundred or so. About halfway through the set we became such an amusing spectacle that the constant camera flashes seemed to become part of the show.

In Fort Worth we had decided we were going to recycle all the confetti we threw; picking out cigarette butts as we swept piles into bags. Well, after six or seven shows our trash bag was an ashtray and the vibrance of the magic (as we called it) was dulled to something comparable to a rainbow in Los Angeles. And because we were playing outdoors there was no reason not to pass around the entire dustpan concoction to everyone near the stage. On command everyone threw their fists up and the night sky stormed magic like God threw up Skittles. When it was all over beers needed strainers and I wasn't sure if that child would ever recover from my confetti pummel. Her mom told me to, though. Parents…

Peachcake's producer took us to a bar after the show. "They didn't understand cheeseless pizza." He said. "Here, have twenty dollars. Go get yourself something to eat."
"Thanks!"

I took it and went back to the hotel.

***

The next day, some fifteen year old girl in an MSI shirt came walking by. We started talking and somehow her face met mine in a very awkward, unanticipated fashion. “Did you just try to put your tongue in my mouth, random street girl?”

Later, the last night in the hotel room, we stayed up watching bad television, where we saw the band's mutual, non-lesbian friend on a lesbian episode of MTV's “Next!.” I didn't know that fauxmosexual, but seeing her on there felt like a victory I had been waiting for my whole life.

***

Pittsburgh

Near everything I've ever heard about Pittsburgh turned out to be false. On that particular street, anyway. The people were friendly, (at least in that apartment I walked into thinking it was a side door to the building) and the girls are cute, even when you take off your stolen X-ray specs.

I spent all afternoon in Beehive Coffee reading Slaughterhouse-Five and listening to what I could have mistaken as my iPod hooked up to the stereo. I don't even know what qualifies as "Indie" music, but this station played it exclusively.

The girl behind the counter has a shaved head, save a patch of hair above her forehead, best described as a green rabbit's tail. She calls it a tuft. She also yells about sandwiches and milkshakes. She has an irrational fear of people eating fruit in front of her and I am in love with her because of it. Though we will never see each other again, I am certain she is my soul mate. To date, these are all my soul mates:

Kindergarten Girl
Broccoli Girl
Girl Who Threw Away My Mom's Ring in Second Grade
Brown Haired Slap Girl Who Didn't Really Like My Karate
Fourth-Grade Girlfriend
Snaggletooth
Aerosol
Aerosol's Neighbor
My Neighbor Whose Name I Forgot
Sixth Grade Cheerleader Girl
Cute, Snobby Tall Girl
Box of Condoms Girl
That Girl Who Didn't Have AIM in Eight Grade English
Braces Girl
My Fat, Eighth-Grade Girlfriend
Incubus Girl
Girl Who's Dad Was a Dentist
Intimidating Girl
Anne Rice Girl
That Girl Who I Had a Nickname For, But Forgot Because It's Been Like Six Years
Brace Face
Bisexual Compton Girl
Ex-Internet Girlfriend
Diabetes Girl
Weird, Laxative Girl
Weird, Laxative Girl's Younger Sister
The Girl With Pretty Eyes Who Had Sex For Cocaine
Big Gums
Andre's Pizza Girl
That Girl Who Was In My College English Class For Two Weeks
Ellen Page
Train Girl
Really Smart Girl
Susie
Bee Girl
Girl Who Keeps Mailing Me Garfield Books for Some Reason
The Dhaba Joy Girls
Lesbian Girl from New York
Beckfan69
Sylvia
Swing Girl
Girl Who is Dating a Guy With No Penis
98% Vegan Girl
Cleveland Girl
Beehive Coffee Girl
[Lemonade Girl]
[Boat Girl]

But Beehive Coffee Girl was different from the rest. Just look at her name.

Sigh... Was it love?

***

But Nobody Here Even Reads?

I was in El Paso again... Damn it. I was relieved that tour was over, but I really hate that city. It was humid as I pulled out all my stuff from the trailer. Stefan had just slipped one-hundred dollars in my pocket and when I walked back to the sidewalk from inside my house, someone had stolen my box of books? I was only going to be there a few days, though. My plans were to go to back to Austin with Best Friends Forever who were touring through. Once there I would see the Faint with the free ticket I would be given from a friend, and then... Chicago? Florida? Finally Portland? Anywhere was possible.

That night I received an e-mail informing me that my Faint ticket had been sold. Then I received another e-mail informing me that I wouldn't be riding to Austin after all; no room. I wasn't upset. I knew a guy who was driving out to Austin to start his first year of college. I'll just call him up and... No room either? Well, okay, shit.

Days later when I planned to head to I-10 East, I received a phone call from friend of mine from high school who had heard of my predicament. A ride to Lubbock? I thought about the last time I had been in Lubbock. “Internet Girlfriend...” I thought. I Immediately I accepted the offer.

I'd wanted to go back to that city for a while. I wanted to visit the places that Internet Girlfriend and I had gone to that first night: The coffo shop, the laundry room in the apartment complex, that random pavilion. I was hoping it'd inspire something beautiful. Also, it was probably as close to re-living that night as I could get without hypnosis or hired actors.

We caught up and I found out she was down with not eating animals. “We’re all growing up.” I thought. Then I remembered I had no money, no job, no change of clothes, and that I hadn’t brushed my teeth in weeks. It was kind of awesome.

***

Lubbock Is Boring and Flat: Fact

If you've never had the opportunity to go to Lubbock, you're missing out on the best abstinence-only, Christian, college town where you're likely to get an STD while driving down the street wishing there was something (anything) to do.

We got into the city around midnight and I played with my friend's dog before fell asleep on the couch. Then, I don't know what happened... It could have been the pancakes I ate table-diving at Village Inn a few nights before, but by morning my throat had become swollen and sore; My tongue: white and furry. Tonsillitis? Strep? Mold? It could have been anything. Whatever it was, I didn't like it, and it was making it hard to eat.

To eat! Shit! I needed to find some food.

Across the street from my friend's apartment was a store pseudo natural foods store where she worked in the cafe. I wandered in, grabbed some fruit and a couple Clif Bars and headed over to see her. They threw the pastries out every night? Perfect. The only problem was that the girl who closes was kind of a jerk. No problem, I'll just explain that I'm hungry?

Around closing time I went back to the cafe with an empty stomach and smile on my face. I eyed the cashier from the distance. She looked nice enough. Looks, however, like old men in vans, can be deceiving.

"Hi there. I was wondering if I might be able to have some of the pastries that you're throwing out."
"Um, no. We can't do that."
"Why not?"
"We just don't do that."
"But you're throwing them out?"
"No. You can't have them."
"Um. Okay, thanks."

I walked away and watched her throw all those muffins and cake slices into a trash can. I needed a plan. Then, suddenly, as if by divine intervention, she walked away from the counter! Without the trash can! Maybe there was a god in this Christian town after all... I ran in, hopped the counter, grabbed the garbage bag out of the bin, and ran out! Too easy. Back at the apartment, I set the bag on the table and prepared to feast on my treats while I lied on the couch and watched The Office until I fell asleep or choked.

"Aw, frig."

After the first bite into my chocolate whatever, I remembered that it was really painful to swallow anything. Oh well. Every season of The Office? That's hard to beat, even with a closed throat and rabbit tongue.



***

They Didn't Laugh at My Puns

Outside the Lubbock Public Library, I was surrounded by ducks. Lots of ducks. I slipped amongst them for about an hour, trying to learn their ways. I had waddling down great, but my quacking was lacking. I tossed some soft jalapeno pretzel to the masses and watched the feathers fly. That's when I saw a swing set across the polluted pond. And who was that on the swing? Uh, my soulmate, duh.

I packed up my stuff and started walking towards her pretty casually. It's important not to seem eager. One must walk hard to get. But I also walked with a hop in my step to let her know that, sometimes, when I walk, I like to hop. As far as I could tell from across the park, she was beautiful! But wait--

Oh shit.

What were we going to talk about when I got over there? Not swinging - too obvious. Maybe she'd want to see my duck impressions? No, too weird for the first date. Oh man. I was getting closer. Don't forget to hop! You do NOT forget to hop, damn it!

"Mind if I swing with you?" I'd say.
"Not at all!" she'd reply. We'd swing a little more.
"So do you live around here?" She'd ask. That was the line I would be waiting for. Surely once I told her about my traveling she'd offer to let me sleep at her house that night. Then, who knows?

But that didn't happen. Before I'd hopped within fifty feet of her she had got off the swing, walked to her car and drove away.

"God damn it."

It started to rain and I ran under a tree for shelter. They say you’re not supposed to go under trees, but then again they say a lot of things.

”Quack…”

***

Blamarillo

Happy Box, my favorite Nashville band (now defunct) was finishing up their tour and headed back home. It so happened that Happy Box consisted of all my friends from Nashville, including Sylvia! Great! It also happened that they could alter their route a little to pick me up about an hour north in Amarillo. Even better. Then I was offered a ride to Amarillo. Someone had clearly turned up the convenience on my America-meter when I wasn’t looking.

It was a long, cramped drive to Nashville with five people in the four-person car. The scenery was barren and devoid of any wildlife. We listened to "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" in Oklahoma, and when everyone fell asleep, well… Sylvia and I did unspeakabl(ly sexy)e things to each other.

How long was I going to stay in Nashville? I didn't know. That was the best part! When was WHY? playing in Austin? In a month? Perfect. As we drove across the vastness that becomes the Midwest, I wondered if I’d ever actually go to Portland.

***

The Dumpster-Doughnut Diet

It was a simple plan, the DDD. One that I was sure would lead to fame and fortune, if not just to keep my body from eating itself.

About a block away from a venue Sylvia and I frequented there was chain doughnut store known as "Krispy Kreme." We didn't know it as we approached that magical place where doughnuts go to die, but right there, in the corner of the parking lot – that would be the birthplace of one of the worst ideas I've ever had. We opened the lid to discover at least twenty boxes – all glazed. We looked at each other with excitement, hunger, and fear that our imminent gluttony would lead to some sort of primal resurgence resulting in the stickiest parking lot orgy ever known and/or us howling at the moon, worshipping its doughnut shape as the god of free, high-calorie trash pastries. Or maybe that was just me?

We couldn't possibly eat all of them, so we started handing out boxes as we walked back to the car. Bar goers from as far as the other side of the street were swarming us, each with the same life-changing question: "Free doughnuts?!" By the time we got back to her car we still had seven or eight dozen bad boys that needed to be eaten. This was more of a challenge than a concern, and it was barely a challenge. These doughnuts needed to be eaten and I was the guy to eat them. In fact, I was the guy who was going to eat them every day until there were no more doughnuts. Then I would go back to Krispy Kreme and get more. And eat them! I was going to live off doughnuts. If there were any flaws in this plan I couldn't see them.

"I’m going to be a legend..."

The next morning I woke up, headed to the kitchen and had a doughnut. Still hungry, I ate another doughnut. Then another. Then two more. Could life get any better than this?

Probably.

So I ate doughnuts. I ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I ate them for dessert. I ate doughnuts every time I was hungry. I ate doughnuts when other people ate Chinese food. I ate doughnuts when I thought I couldn't eat another doughnut. I ate through the body trembles and chest pains caused by all the sugar and calories. I ate until I wasn't sure if my heart was beating anymore. At some point I wondered if I was even a person anymore. You are what you eat, right? I felt sluggish. Was I a slug? I felt stiffened, paled, and dirty. I felt like an old tire. Those are shaped like doughnuts. Maybe I was eating baby tires. Baby tires? I wanted to vomit. I was losing it. Every day I was 4,800 calories closer to immortality, but at what cost? What was happening to me? Was I going to die? Jesus died, right? I'm like Jesus. Doughnuts had holes, Jesus had holes – the similarities were uncanny. "If I'm a doughnut, I'm obviously Jesus," I concluded. I was constipated from all the carbohydrates. My head hurt. How much longer could I keep this up? If Krispy Kreme wanted to use me as the next Jared, I wouldn't do it. Those doughnuts aren't vegan and I wouldn't sellout like that. I'm no sellout. Am I? Of course I'm not. I'm going to die.

It was the longest four days of my life.

I don't remember if I finished all the doughnuts, but I remember throwing away the boxes. That's where they came from in the first place, after all. As I lifted the trash can lid I paused in reflection and respect as I completed the circle of life. "Circles are shaped like doughnuts too," I thought.

Of course, we would still visit the magic dumpster after that. Who wouldn't? Actually, now that I think about it, it wasn't all that magic. We really only got two or three good hauls the in the coming month that I lived there. Oh well! Probably best not to exploit the supernatural, anyway.

***

No, Corruption First, Then Kisses.

Then there was that holy day… The day at the sandwich shop that nearly brought a tear to my eye. On our way to the used record store, looking for someplace to eat, we pulled into the unusually crowded parking lot of some sandwich place. There were police and foam fingers as far as the eye could see. My first instinct was terrorist attack. Someone blew up the Parthenon. Sylvia had some silly football-game-across-the-street theory.

Inside the store, one could create a custom sandwich by checking off a list of ingredients, then handing the card to an employee behind the counter. Then… wait, they hand you the sandwich? Before paying? It had to be a trap. There was no way I'd fall for their "free sandwich" setup. Not with all those cops outside. I backed away to slip some juice in my bag while Sylvia ordered her food. Minutes later she approached me, sandwich in hand. She was quiet and biting her lip.

"You ready?" She asked.

I followed behind her, heading toward the cash register. Then, to my surprise, she brushed past some customers, bypassed the cashier, and walked right out the door! So many thoughts were racing through my head as we walked to the car. There were so many cops! Poor Sylvia was patsy to the sandwich setup. She’d never make it in county! But wait, we were already at the car… She got away with it? Did my Sylvia just win herself a sandwich?! YES! She went from hungry to heroic! Her food from liberated to lunch! The text message she sent me in Lubbock: Noble to null!

"I'm okay with stealing but it's not for me…"

LOL to that!

And as we waited in line to leave that unusually crowded parking lot, I had never been as proud of or attracted to her as I was then. I couldn't help but think I was partly responsible for her change of heart. Perhaps this was the beginning of a beautiful relationship...

I mean, unless the cops came knocking. Then I had never met her before in my life.

***

Gnarbox

It would be no exaggeration to say that I spent most of my time in Nashville at the Gnarbox residence… specifically on that disgusting, black futon. I had found love there... I had found Flight of the Conchords series on DVD there. It was a great place to find things. The apartment itself was located in a pretty bad neighborhood south of downtown. Pizza places wouldn't deliver to after dark and it wasn't uncommon to hear gunshots at least twice a week. Joey had his face cut one night after he had been robbed in his own backyard. In fact, one morning a threat was made on everyone's life when Joey's roommate "Long Hair" declined to give some guy a ride to work, being late himself. "Y'all better keep watch out..." he said. “Y'all” meaning the small white community in the predominately black neighborhood. I never expected anything to come of the threat, though. It seemed as empty as the abandoned car in the parking lot that we skated on once. But even so, if it came down to it, we had Mac Bear on our side.

Mac Bear was the friendly, neighborhood meth dealer who would pop every now and then for high fives and cigarettes. He'd spread the word that we were cool in exchange for all the leftover alcohol poured into one "brand new" forty ounce. Then he'd try to sell us pot. And meth. He was just like the wacky neighbors on television. It was actually a pretty good deal we had going on.

It was cozy in Nashville. On those warm summer nights, we'd often find ourselves immersed in friends watching foreign movies or playing the Super Nintendo. I still hadn't seen Amelie, but I had become a Super Mario World champion for the second summer in my life. Even as a group, though, I think we only won two rounds of Family Feud… shameful. Then there was that day we found The Lion King cartridge and I embarrassingly reverted to my second grade self when I couldn't get past level 2…

"GOD FUCK!" I'd say. "I hate this fucking game. I quit!"
"Can I try?" They'd ask.
"NO. I'm going to beat this." I'd tell them.
"But you've been trying for the last two hours…"
"FOOD. I need FOOD!" I'd respond. "I need MORE peanut butter and jelly burritos!"

Sigh… I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly burritos that summer.

I finally beat that game, you know. It was early one morning when I pounced Scar senseless and knocked him off and out of Pride Rock, returning Simba to his rightful place as king.

A hero? No…

Well, if you insist.

As a lifelong "No shower" advocate and frequent victim of clichés, I didn't know what I got until it was gone. Normally, showers are lame. Trust me. People these days are afraid to smell like people. They waste water and are slowly embalming themselves with chemicals in their hygiene products. It wasn't my scene, plus I could shower at Sylvia's house if I needed to. Everyone else, though… They made the house real dirty. Lots of crusty kids slept there. A few traveler kids too... The black futon smelled like patchouli and B.O. constantly and on it was a perpetually moist blanket that no one could ever figure out. I loved Gnarbox more than my sister, but frankly, we were all lucky we didn't get fleas.


We got scabies...

***

WTFACL?

Austin City Limits is an annual music festival composed mostly of latest indie bands. I had gone the year before and enjoyed it a lot, despite that unexpected run-in with Internet Girlfriend. Of course I wanted to go again. I like concerts and indie music, whatever that is. The line-up was different, sure, but they were still charging. Paying for things is something I had grown less fond of over the past year and frankly didn't seem very progressive... Come on, Austin. Keep it weird.

I thought of a few plans. Posing as a security guard? No, too scrawny. Pose as a medic and run in through the gates carrying a first aid kit? Feasible, but it would be difficult to get a uniform on short notice. I had decided I would go late-night before the doors opened to the public, hop the fence, and then sleep in a portapotty until it was time to rock. To indie rock.

It seemed like a good enough plan. If not, I had run into the guy from Craigslist who drove me down there out on a field during a morning jog. "This is soooo weird." He said. It was, but I couldn't fully enjoy the awkward encounter because I was in the middle of an emotional phone call. He said something about sneaking me into the festival if I wanted. "Where there's a will, there's a way." Maybe, I thought. "But aren't you, like, crazy addicted to cigarettes?"

The next day I headed down to Zilker Park. I began riding around the perimeter, looking for a good, poorly secured place to hop in. As I continued down the bike path, I saw some blonde girl, who looked kind of like Internet Girlfriend, walking towards me. "Ha, that'd be weird." I thought. "Just like last year…"



Oh fuck.

It was Internet Girlfriend.

She was in town for the festival and out walking with her brother who I suspect still doesn't like me very much. Jesus. What were the odds? We made the typical, meaningless small talk and exchanged numbers as I told her my plan to sneak in. She didn't seem impressed. I guess I wouldn't have either. She and her brother kept walking and I went home to get ready for the big night. I rode back home with hope in my head and heart.

Phone? Check.
Bicycle? Check.
V-neck? Uh, check.

I locked up my bike and began walking the dark path to the backside of the festival, certain I was a genius. Everything was going great until I saw two guys, a golf cart, and a spotlight. No problem, I'll go around to the other side. No? Well what about the other side? Nope. Well what if I crossed under the bridge like monkey bars? But it was no good. It was guarded like a prison! The only way to get in would be to traverse the wildlife area. Unthinkable! I saw a snake earlier that day.

Cold, tired, and defeated and itchy, I went back to Susie's house a failure.

***

Still Bitter about the Breakup

If having a girlfriend in elementary school was like having a passport in Casablanca, in fourth grade, I was Rick Blaine. Or at least I could have been. I don't know. I loved that movie. Look, he had two passports, alright?

During the first few weeks of school, there were two girls who were publicly fighting over me and I didn't even know it until one of them told me. Unfortunately, the one who told me was the less appealing of the two and I was walking home with her when she asked if I wanted to be her boyfriend. I couldn't just say no. How often do those kinds of offers come along? Once, maybe twice in a grade. Especially when you look like I did at the age of ten.

Fourth Grade Girlfriend and I began going out, and at first I was a little ashamed of her. She was kind of big compared to the other girls in the class. One day at lunch, a friend asked me to point her out. And when I did, he laughed and I immediately told him that I was just kidding. I even considered trying to secretly date Alternate Fourth Grade Girlfriend, the other girl who liked me. Yes, being FGG's best friend would make it difficult. But I was certain I could do it. Everyone told me I was really smart.

But I wasn't a complete jerk. No way. The first day we were officially dating, my friend Steve came up to me and told me this plan he had come up with to get Pamela to go out with me. Looking back, it was kind of demeaning for everyone involved, but at the time I don't think I could have asked for a better friend. Pamela, a girl I liked, who liked Steve, agreed to his terms of being my girlfriend for a week, in order to later date Steve. The prospect excited me! A girlfriend! A third passport! But wait a minute... Aw shucks, I just got a girlfriend. So I did what any honest boyfriend would do. I found FGG and asked her if I could go out with Pamela too.

"No."
"FINE."

Our first fight!

But even though we got "married" that Saturday I went to her house and got snot all over her lips, our relationship didn’t stand the test of time. A few months later she came up to me during PE and told me I was "Officially dumped." I was heartbroken, I guessed. But I would move on. There would be other girls, I told myself. There weren't.

Sometimes I still think about what could have been. If I hadn't been expelled in fifth grade right when we got back together… One night I was thinking about our first kiss. That special moment we shared together. We were standing behind a bush right outside the school, next to the church I would attend years later. It was just me, FGG and Rebecca.

“Wait a minute…” I thought with shifty eyes.

I immediately logged onto Facebook and searched for FGG’s name.

"So it’s four-thirty in the morning, eleven years after our brief, fourth-grade affair and it didn't occur to me until just now that our first kiss was a fraud. Nothing more than a clever, diabolical ploy of yours. After school that memorable day, behind the St. Francis Episcopal Church sign, we shared our first kiss - it being my first kiss ever. Rebecca had given us both fifty cents to kiss in front of her and it was magic. It didn't occur to me until just now, at the age of twenty, that Rebecca probably wasn't some pre-pubescent voyeur, but it was you, in fact, who set up the elaborate "kiss for money" scheme. Clearly you gave her fifty cents to give to me in order to kiss you. Very clever, [FGG]. I'm very hurt and offended. My kissing résumé of all these years has been founded on deceit. You know, I would have kissed you for free, [FGG]. You didn't have to pay me.

The reason I'm writing you is because I'm going to be doing some shows in Phoenix soon, and if you'd still like to pay me for kisses, let me know. I'm as low on cash as I am willing.

-Michael"

I typed that out and sent it without any hesitation. However, when I woke up and remembered what I had done, I set out to immediately to correct this. I kind of sounded like a jerk? But it was too late! She had already responded and left me with a slew of unanswered questions.

"Oh, Michael. These fond memories are almost too much. I assure you, I was completely aware I could kiss you for free, but times were tough and I was hurting for snow cone money. And don't give Rebecca too much credit; I recall her as quite the little freak for a ten-year-old. Phoenix, however, is just over a two hour drive north and I'm not certain I'd be able to afford the gas as well as the cost of your attention.

[FGG]."

If Fourth-Grade Girlfriend didn't pay her friend to kiss me, what happened that afternoon? Did Rebecca really want to see us kiss bad enough to give up a dollar? Her family wasn't well off, as I recall. Dollars were diamonds in elementary school; if you had a dollar, you were king. You could buy a soda with a dollar. I guess you could have bought two, but what would anyone have done with two sodas? I needed to know.

All online searches for Rebecca came up empty. I checked every social networking service I could find. I even called up our old Elementary School but they refused to give me any answers to her whereabouts. With nowhere else to look, I closed Susie's laptop and we went outside. It was a nice day out, so we went swimming, liberated lunch from Whole Foods and then had a picnic on a nearby roof. No one can say I don’t have my priorities straight.

***

People We Can Believe In?

When I e-mailed Craigslist Guy that afternoon, I had no idea who the "Obama People" were or why he needed to find them so desperately, but I needed a ride out of town and he had a car. And the new TV on the Radio album? Craigslist Guy was weird man; a short man. He was probably of Indian decent and in is early thirties. And also probably insane. He would exclusively talk about his iPhone and this mysterious group called “The Obama People.” He was on his way to Las Vegas looking for them, but they were nowhere to be found. "They’re probably hiding," he said.

CG wasn't going to rest until he found them, though. He had quit his job and started living out of his car. His mission was to find the Obama People and it was worth sacrificing whatever life he had before to do so. What he intended to do when he found them was never made clear, but he made enough money to live, he said, showing me his iPhone again. And he liked to stay up to date on the latest music.

”Can we listen to this?” I asked.
"That's just the case. "
"But it still has the wrapping on it..?"
"No. I don’t know."

There was another man in the car with us. He was riding shotgun and he openly resented me and the fact that he was splitting gas and I wasn't. "At least I have shotgun though, ha-ha!" He sure showed me! I stretched across the entirety of the backseat and fell asleep.

***

When I woke up we were in El Paso again (damn it) and I had a ride arranged for a few days later with another person who didn't like me. Two persons, actually. They were friends of a friend and heading out to see a car show in Phoenix.

"How much money did you bring?" one asked the other.
"About six hundred. What about you?"
"Four-fifty."
"What about you?" One asked me.

They laughed when I told them I only had eleven cents. I did too when I realized I had left it at home. They laughed about a lot of things on that trip. A lot of racist jokes. They didn't laugh when I broke the only working door handle off the car, though.

"What's that in your hand?"
"Nothing."
"Nothing?"
"Okay, it's your car."

***

Late that night in a grocery store in Chandler I noticed a woman, the Organic Foods Specialist, help some customers, and then head over to a cash register near the entrance of the store. She seemed to know a lot about organic foods, which was good, because she was the specialist. I kept looking at cookies when a thought popped into my head. A memory from elementary school...

"There's no way it'll work," I told myself. "That was completely different... They were just snow-cones." But I knew I had to try. If it didn't work: “How silly of me to have forgotten my debit card!”

I grabbed an armload of food and headed to her register, making sure to play it cool.

"Hello, did you have trouble finding anything tonight?" the woman asked.
“As a matter of fact I didn't. You have a very nice organic section over there. Very nice. I was really surprised because I had never even heard of this grocery store before. You should tell whoever is in charge of it to keep up the good work! That person needs a raise!"
"Well thank you! I'm actually in charge of it all. You know, I'm trying to get them to expand it..." She replied, scanning and weighing my food.
"Have you ever tried this particular soy yogurt? It's amazing!" I asked, picking up the blueberry cup. I was keeping it cool. This was cool. Everything was cool. Cool as blueberry yogurt.
"Only the mango,” She said. “But I want to try them all… Oh wait a minute! Paper or plastic?"
"Paper, please. I don't like using plastic bags because they're such a waste. They aren't biodegradable, right? Isn't it like a thousand years before they do? I can’t be responsible for that. So how long have you been in charge of it? The organic section, I mean. Not the environment. You must run it well for it to be so extensive. Are there any other organic food stores around here? Like, local ones? I prefer to shop locally. But it's late and do you know if any are open this late?"

God, could I be playing it cooler?

"Oh, well, um, I'm not sure. But we're always ordering new foods so if they don't have what you are looking for you can always come here and fill out a request form."
"Well, that's true. And I liked this place a lot. But it’s pretty far out of my way... Actually I should probably get going. It's pretty late. Thanks for all the help. I hope you have a really great night, and I mean that. You deserve it!"
"Oh, well thank you! Have a good night!" she said as she handed me my bag.

"Yeah, thank you!" I smiled and waved goodbye.

As soon as I got out the door I ran back to the car, giddy and smiling. Distracting cashiers so they forget to charge you? It works as well at twenty as it does at ten.

***

I've Peachcaked Before: The Ghostbusters Karaoke Tour

Tucson

After the performing that night everyone under twenty-one was kicked out of the bar. A cute girl with short hair was walked in as I let go of the door and it swung back and hit her in the face. Classic Michael. "It happens all the time!" She said. We talked a little before she went inside to karaoke.

But wait a minute; was I hearing a gangster rap version of Two Become One by the Spice Girls? "Two become one, motherfucker!" It was as eloquent as it was tough. After slipping in a fire exit I found the guitarist, Mike, to do doubles-karaoke with me. Once we had picked our song, we sat impatiently waiting for our turn.

Watching other people sing karaoke is really strange; people take it so seriously. When that girl let loose her howls singing "Crawling in my Skin" I could tell she was singing it from her depths of her soul. And when that lonely-looking, white woman sang that haunting "Half-Breed" ballad, I could hear more than just a tragic story of being accepted by neither white nor native folk. I could hear her shattered dreams of being a famous singer, her utter desperation for recognition, and her yearning desire to create something beautiful. Something that would last forever... Something that would live through the times that wronged her, even if she couldn't.

We sang Ghostbusters.

"MC Hale and Deeno-Mike, you're up!"
"Dino!” I corrected angrily.

We grabbed our microphones and let loose a supersonic, supernatural karaoke fury that would rock the ages and ruin my voice for days. I never realized how long that song was until I was on the dance floor jumping around and screaming it. Then Face-Door Girl and her friends came onto the floor with us and well, when she screamed that she wasn't afraid of no ghosts, was it naïve of me to believe her? She and I later met up for dinner and I don’t know if it was my wily ways or the alcohol in her, but we headed back to her house for a long, exhausting night of watching Scrubs until we fell asleep.

"Want to see my new tribal tattoo? I got it two days ago."
"Uh, sure." I said hesitantly. She smiled and pulled up her pant leg revealing the word "tribal" tattooed on her calf.
"I already regret that one!"

...Was this love?

***

Springfield

Adult-size dinosaur onesie.

***

Brooklyn

Driving into New York, I didn't know what to expect. Traffic jams, rude pedestrians and canolis? Check, check and check. Way to be a stereotype, New York. On the way to the venue I saw the area surrounding trees decorated with pumpkins and corn and began to wonder if I was the only person who saw free food sitting on the sidewalk. When we finally got to our destination, the doorman wouldn't let me into the bar we were supposed to play in because I wasn't twenty one. I ended up standing outside, fucking freezing, for nearly three hours… That’s when words fail.

As I stood on the sidewalk, a fish fell from the sky and began to flop around desperately on the cement. I stared in disbelief and confusion as a few people nearby ran over and scrambled to pour water on it. Within mere seconds, some woman came walking from behind me, casually picked it up, placed it under her arm in a newspaper, and continued on her way without missing a step.

”...What the fuck just happened?”

Later that night, in the basement of a pizza parlor that would solidify my love for dancing in my underwear around strangers, we played to an intimate crowd of Brooklyn Hipsters. It was more fun than my embarrassingly inadequate vocabulary can expound, and I wasn’t the only one to think so.

"..What the fuck just happened?" Some Man asked.

It turned out that Some Man runs an annual music festival and enjoyed our show so much that he wanted us to play at next year's event in... Norway? All expenses paid?

I…

I’m not ever going back to college.

***

Allentown

The day in Allentown was nonsensical and ridiculous. It was like an episode of Three's Company if Chrissie was blind, Jack hadn't showered in weeks, and Larry was kicked in the head by Mr. Roper after throwing glass at his face. Or something.

It was midnight after the Brooklyn show when I was told about the two hour drive to Pennsylvania. Exhausted and smelling of garlic, I woke up confused around nine. The sun had risen and we were still driving. We had to load in all the equipment from the van as quickly as we could, not only because it was beginning to rain, but we were playing at Generic Scream-Band Fest 2008 at "Croc Rock" and all the other bands were playing really obnoxious music from their vehicles.

As I pushed the dolly down the long white corridor into a vast room full of teenagers and young adults, all dressed with in spikes, I had a strange, overwhelming feeling that I couldn't quite place. I opened the door to a big blur of leather jackets and bad tattoos. Everyone was dressed the same and was making fun of me as I walked by... It seemed all too familiar.

"Watch out, faggot."
"Uh, yes sir."

It was like playing at a high school.


When I returned to the van, Stefan had drained the van battery in an attempt to drown out the bad hardcore his own music. We ended up asking the same people whose music we were drowning to give us a jump. As we drove into the parking lot, I saw another band loading in and in an attempt to fraternize, I jokingly told them that they put on a good show and that it was great playing with them.

"We haven't played yet." One muttered in retort. "Yeah!" Another said, coming to his friend's defense.

It was going to be a long day.

Eating lunch at noon on a Saturday seemed simple enough. But as we ran down the street in the rain, we couldn't find one place that was open. Literally everything from Happy China Buffet to Subway was closed. Defeated and wet, we went back to the venue/pizza parlor where, immediately, some girl recognized the Peachcake singer’s voice and asked us to sit with her. She looked fifteen, as most fans do, and my mind began to wander as she started talking about things I’d probably never care about. Soon Stefan left the table and it was just her and her friend sitting across from me. It was quiet for about thirty seconds before she blurted out "You're really attractive." and kept eating her disgustingly greasy pizza. A few minutes later she took out a folded sheet of paper from her purse with a bunch of autographs on it. "This is my autograph paper” she said. “It's actually just the back of this paper that’s legal proof I'm blind."
"Oh, I noticed your eye was moving a little funny, but I wasn't going to say anything. What happened?" I said, perhaps inappropriately
"I was born with congenital cataracts."
"I see... --I mean! Uh… shit. Sorry."

I left the table and headed downstairs to the bathroom when it occurred to me that I was just hit on by a blind fifteen year old. I passed the various merch tables for the bands that all had skulls on their t-shirts. My favorite one was the shirt which read: "THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID" in huge letters with a skull for an apostrophe. That one was art. That was when I saw her.

She was tall with long dark hair, a blue flannel dress that she had turned into a shirt, snakebites and was a writer for The Syndicate. She must have been at least twenty-two years old and I was intimidated by how pretty she was.

"Hey! Are you in Peachcake?"

Oh god, she was talking to me; my voice cracked as I said hello. She told me about how she helped promote the show, and that she was supposed to review us after we played. I said I had to pee and walked away. Classic Michael.

When I walked out of the bathroom the venue was struck with a power outage and the underground venue/basement of the pizza parlor was dark as the dirt under my nails. For nearly an hour everyone sat and complained in the humid room that was warming up fast. That's when I began to smell the repercussions of the show from the night before. All the garlic I had been taking for preventative illness/vampire measures was leaking out my skin and mixing with my natural smell of my body creating an odorous monstrosity that the neighboring merch table described as "Shit mixed with more shit, rolled around in shit." He then told me that I smelled "shitty" and that I needed to put my shit back on. I mean shirt.

An hour later the power came back on and it was our turn to play. Because of the black-out, we had been limited to four songs, but I assure you: They brought the bump. Everybody was bumping. You couldn’t looked anywhere without seeing bumps. It was like an audience of geese? And I feared for my vision when I lost my glasses during one song. Stefan told the crowd to jump. I thought it was all over. When they showed up unscathed I felt I should do something nice in return. After the show I made a public apology for smelling like an onion soup truck had collided with a garlic and patchouli farm. But it wasn't enough. The whole walk back to the merch table I heard buzz about how bad I smelled. Some liked it, some didn't. The public was torn! Then I was approached by the unusually forward blind girl who casually asked me to fuck her again. Flattered as I was, I wondered if maybe that girl was smell-blind as well...

You could call it fate, common courtesy, pity, whatever! When that cute twenty-two year old showed up at our table again and we started talking again, I knew there was something special between us. She liked music; I liked music. She had hair; I had hair. She thought she was pretty; I thought she was pretty... Our similarities were unbelievable! Who would have believed we had so much in common? I was in my twenties; she was in her twe...

”…Oh my God. You're how old?”

How that girl could be so young and look so old I’ll never know.

***

The festival we were playing at was being headlined by The Casualties, a punk band from the nineties that stole riffs from the Clash. They had just stepped on stage as John went upstairs to watch them and the singer made sure to remind his audience that The Casualties are way punk, and not “dance or emo bullshit,” and that if people wanted to dance, they could “get the fuck out.” Thinking that the guy was being a dick to his fans for no reason, John drunkenly wrote “Casualties = pseudo punk” on a piece of paper and threw it at the bassist, who then kicked him in the head. John, in retaliation, walked back to the bar and hit him with a long distance Jell-o shot. Two guys jumped off stage to, I assume, kill him, but John was in cross country and made it out the venue before they made it through the crowd. Punx?

At the end of the night, already inside the van, Horny Blind Girl asked to go to dinner with us… She knew this great place called Ham Fam that we’d all love, and it was only four thousand miles away! Great! I lied in my row thinking about everything that had just happened. High school flashbacks, abandoned streets, ominous rainstorms, blackouts, pre-pubescent twenty-two year olds, persistent sex requests from handicapped children… I was weirded out by the whole day, wishing I didn’t smell so bad. I’d been in dumpsters that were more pleasant than my row.

Exhausted and hungry, we sat quietly in the restaurant waiting for our food. After yet another sex request from the blind girl, our food appeared and I unrolled my napkin to find my fork lying inside a knotted condom.

”Excuse me, waitress...You probably get this all the time, but…”

Then she accused me of doing it myself! A few minutes later I looked up and saw her bawling behind the counter. Being a waitress must be daunting.

At the end of the night, when we approached the manager at the register, I asked innocently enough if they had an I-found-my-fork-in-a-condom discount. The woman completely ignored my question and with passive-aggressive undertones demanded “$7.58.”

I walked out, trudging alone through the fog, certain we never made it to Allentown. Certain none of that day was real. There was probably a terrible accident during the two hour drive and I had been killed instantly. I stopped cold in the endless, empty parking lot and shouted to the heavens above.

”Where am I?!”

…Was this Hell?

Then I heard an ominous whisper of a distant voice… No. This wasn’t hell. This was… ”Ham Fam…”

***

If a Guy Masturbates Alone in Some Bushes, Does He Make a Sound?

Looking back, it was kind of weird. Or it would have been if I was someone else - If I was boring. When those couch surfers came down from Canada, it was only a matter of time before we were all gathered around a laptop watching weird porn, sharing masturbation stories... Anyone knows that. Two guys, two girls... Four horny people on a fold-out bed. It could have been the premise of our own weird movie. Instead, we each spent ten minutes pleasuring ourselves in private after the occasionally erotic films. It was awkward, sexy, and went on for nearly a week. Is it any wonder, then, that I'd end up masturbating in the bushes at an Of Montreal show?

It was a chilly day in November; a day that started with rough plans to trespass and ended with pneumonia. I was going to see my favorite band and I wasn't going to pay… I knew that much. The rest I would have to play by ear.

On the bus ride downtown, six hours early, I thought of the myriad ways I could get into the show. Surely I could hop the fence, but that seemed so uninspired. I had all day to think of something interesting. I could wear costume and tell security I was with the band (Which later worked at the Flaming Lips), but I had left all of those at home. I decided that my best bet would be to find one of the band members and ask them if I could help them load in. Maybe my adventures with Peachcake would come up and I’d be invited to be in their live show! The thought was sort of exciting. When I got to the outdoor theatre, though, they were already loaded in. I needed a new plan. Something reliable. Something that only made sense. Something I’d done before and that I still do well: I squeezed between the fences in the back and sat in the bushes until it was dark. I sat there giggling and rubbing my hands together.

”Only five and half more hours.”

I texted everyone I knew. I called every person who responded. Only Door-Face Girl answered, and she had to go to work. It was cold and I hadn’t brought a jacket. Stupid. I started trying to count how many times my teeth hit as I shivered. I looked back at my phone and only half an hour had passed. I tried to go to sleep but the bushes were poking into me. And even worse, I was already sick. I could barely swallow anything and had been coughing for over a week. It was a long five hours.

Eventually, though, darkness came and the doors were opened. I hadn’t seen anyone walking around so I decided to wait another half-hour before venturing out. It was around that time that it occurred to me that I could very well masturbate in those bushes. I’m not sure if it was the frequent ejaculations prior that were making me unusually horny, or maybe even some subconscious impression that the new, sexually charged Of Montreal release, but it made sense at that moment, sexual symbolism aside, to pull down my pants and masturbate.

It was daring. It was uncomfortable. It was surprisingly quick. Miraculously quick, even. I was checking for a mess when I heard something that nearly turned me to stone.

Yeah, they could do a lot with this place.” A fairly deep voice said.
”Yeah, there are a lot of trees.” Another responded; two men coming toward me.

They took a few steps toward the bushes I was in and I struggled to put away my penis as surreptitiously as possible, hoping they wouldn’t see me. My elbows hit the branches next to me and rustled some leaves!

”I think if they--, “One continued, pausing abruptly.

FUCK.

He saw me. Then so did the other guy. They stared at me. I stared back at them with my hand and shirt inside my pants. What was I supposed to do? Say "Now that's what I call beating around the bush?" and hold my clean hand up for a 'five?" Probably, but Instead I sat there motionless and tried to kill them with my mind. It was only about five seconds before they turned around and walked away without saying a word, but in those paralyzing, endless moments, I had seen my whole life flash before my eyes... What does it say about your life when you die flaccid and surrounded by shrubbery?

Twenty minutes later, still timid and embarrassed, I leaped out from the foliage and ran into the audience gathering around the stage. I was ready. I had just nearly been discovered mid-outdoorgasm, but that only got my adrenaline rushing. Nothing could alleviate my high! Then…

”Michael!”


Oh god.
No...
Please.
Please don't be Internet-Girlfriend... Please don't be Internet-Girlfriend...


Then I turned around only to see none other than my old friend Avacado Girl! She had brought two Polaroid pictures of me and a striking tale of how she got pneumonia the week prior. "Oh Thank God." I said. But then my hypochondria took effect when she told me her symptoms: Coughing. I stood there convinced I had pneumonia and needed to see a doctor right away. I walked away from my favorite band, past the dozens of people still waiting in line, and then took a bus back home, anxious and afraid I was going to die.

”How was the show?” One horny Canadian asked.

I paused, gave her a thumbs-up, and then downed a jar of minced ginger as I turned on the weird porn for us. I want my epitaph to read "Michael Kraft - He was never more alive than when he was dying/erect.

***

Man-infest Destiny

I'm scared of every itch now. I'm scared they're still laying eggs in my skin.

For nearly six months I was infested with those little bastards. There were nights that I couldn’t sleep because the itching was absolutely unbearable. There were times when I would cry in frustration and the idea of immersing my body in bleach seemed like everything but a bad idea. Other times I would wake up with dried blood and skin stuck under my fingernails, and if my thighs hadn’t scabbed to my pants, it was another successful night’s sleep. I was afraid to be near anyone lest I plague them. My friends, few as they were, were afraid to be near me. Sure, I was a real street kid now, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything that required more than six seconds of attention. The itching was consuming my body and mind. And after about three months, random parts of my body began to callous into what seemed like small, smooth scabs. Hence the name. I got them on my fingers, wrists, chest, and an area where peeling scabs is never smart. Every day it worsened as they traversed the entirety of my body. My legs, my groin, my arms, and my torso…I was a vibrant, red, massive host for those microscopic Hell-beasts. When the inside of my mouth began to itch I was going to kill myself.

Yes, going to a doctor was a good idea - in theory. I had no money or insurance. What was I supposed to do? Go anyway? Well, I did. I had to when my mouth because white and furry again. The rabbit tongue was back and I wasn't going to make it. I think it’s safe to say at that point my immune system was completely shot. I hadn’t been eating anything like healthy, and scant, hastily stolen meals can only provide so much nutrition. I had been surviving off tea and any extra food in the house. One morning I rode Susie’s bike to the low-income clinic and ended up walking away with a pesticide prescription that I couldn’t afford.

”How much poison can I buy with this?” I’d ask, emptying my sock full of Peachcake stickers on the counter at a nearby pharmacy.

Hm. It seemed I was just going to learn to love the little bastards and make friends with them. No one could really argue that it wasn’t a solid plan.

God I was so itchy.

I was just going to have to find new friends; A new long-distance girlfriend. Maybe there was an entire infested colony out there where people had learned to live in harmony with their little bastards. Maybe everyone still lived fulfilling lives and they weren’t afraid to hug. I was set on finding such a place when I got a miraculous phone call. A phone call that would change the course of history. A phone call that most people wait their whole lives for!

”This is the Art Institute of Austin, are you still interested in modeling nude for us?”
”Uh, yeah.”

Nude modeling. I would get to be naked! For money! A dream come true! I was going to have enough money to rub poison into my skin, which doesn’t sound nearly as exciting now as it did then. But it was a cure! Finally I could end the nightmare.

The only thing I worried about - and I believe this is a common fear for amateur models - was the devastating likelihood of an erection. The prospect of standing on a stage and becoming randomly, uncontrollably erect seemed very embarrassing. Public art-boners were just something I wasn’t ready to deal with. When I got home from volunteering at the anarcho recycling center, I had two options to prepare for the modeling job. It was either: A) Take a shower and not stink up a classroom; or B) Masturbate.

Duh.

I arrived at the building a few minutes late, probably smelling worse than before, where I met the man outside. He was alone in the shadows smoking a cigarette, and very quietly asked me if I was eighteen.

”Yeah,” I said, preparing to show ID.
”Good. Come on in.”

He showed me to the bathroom where I proceeded to scrub my armpits with powdered soap, water, and scratchy toilet paper. It didn’t do anything but hurt, so I walked downstairs with a bit of white powder and still visible under my arms. The man introduced me to class. No one said anything. Then he asked me if I had a robe to wear during the breaks and I showed him my soft, blue, yellow and green flowery dress. He looked at my dress, then me, then the clock, probably wondering if it was too late to find someone else.

”Dressing room is over there.” He said, pointing. It was finally time to shine. I took off my socks, my shirt, and then my pants and then… Oh no. Oh no.

Maybe it was because it was cold outside, or maybe it was because I had just masturbated furiously, but for whatever reason, my penis was significantly smaller than usual. I stood there staring; trying to figure out if this was A) Ironic; B) Worse than an erection. Before I could come to a conclusion I had to get on stage.

”It’s eight-o-five. Let’s get a move-on.”
”Come on…Come ON…”

I slapped it around a bit trying to make it bigger (which I imagine everyone does before these kinds of things), pulled open the curtain with more of a grunt than a sigh, and then walked on the small wooden stage.

There I stood, fully exposed with lights shining at me from above. I looked at everyone looking at me. Then I looked at the teacher looking at them look at me. Then he looked at me. Then I looked at me. One girl looked at the clock. It occurred to me just then, as everyone was examining at me, that not only did I smell terrible, and was my penis shrunken, but my inner thighs looked like they’d rubbed with glass or sandpaper. They were bright red with small, bloody cuts speckled about. I had scratched them almost completely raw.

“It’s not weird, guys, I promise,” I wanted to tell them. “It’s just because of my little bastards?” But before I said anything I was interrupted by the teacher.

”Okay, now let’s start out with short poses, then move into an hour long pose, alright? Starting…Now!”

I was going to have to not scratch myself. For three hours. There was no way. Burning monks didn’t have that much self control. One year I didn’t talk for three months, but let’s be real: I spent over seven hundred dollars on cookies in the span of weeks. That teacher was going to toss me into the cold, naked and poor. I threw myself into a random pose, completely focused on and intimidated by the idea of not scratching. Might as well have asked me not to breathe or make bad wordplay. Birdplay. Then the idea popped into my head that if I could distract myself with pain, I wouldn’t think about the itching. It made sense to me that I should stretch and stand in really uncomfortable positions, so I tried to put my leg over my head but couldn’t. My anus was in plain sight and I watched as two girls kept smirking at my tiny penis. Then I listened as one old man kept making short, guttural sounds as he leaned toward me. It was hard not to laugh at the girl who kept looking at him, totally creeped out. It was hard not to laugh at myself. It was a ridiculous situation and I smelled so bad.

I tried to make small talk, but no one responded.
”You guys come here often..?”
”Yeah, me neither.”
”Do you guys…ride bicycles?”
”I do.”

I switched up poses every couple if minutes, trying to make them as uncomfortable for myself as possible. Things were going along as smoothly as they could be, I figured. “Do it for the poison. Just do it for the cream!” Then it happened. Sex. Not real sex, but imaginary sex. I tried to change the mental subject but it was too late! I had to distract myself even more; the pain from stretching wasn’t working. I was feeling that tinge of growth right before an erection. I tried to think about baseball, but it was stupid and cliché. I felt stupid and cliché for even trying it. I don’t even know anything about baseball. What a ridiculous distraction, baseball.

Bikes, cookies, cats, ginger tea, chewing garlic raw, Kurt Vonnegut, that Half-Price Books security guard who takes her job way to seriously - Anything! I started stretching in the most uncomfortable ways I could imagine. My limbs were on fire! My senses were at war with each other. What do you call the feeling between mild external discomfort and internal torture? By the time it was over, I had hyper-extended every muscle in my body, but walked away flaccid. I had gone three hours without an erection. My resume just kept getting better.

I know there are some very serious problems in the world, and I don't know exactly what this says about me, but for some reason, to prevent those unpredictable, six-inch sin sticks, the only thing I could think about was Carlos Mencia.

Carlos Mencia is my mortal enemy.

***

The next evening, after half an hour’s hesitation, I rubbed the poison into my skin, courageously risking the ‘potentially fatal overdose’ warning. No overdose could stop me! The next morning I woke up significantly less itchy and headed outside where I enjoyed my glorious, regained freedom-from-itch. It worked! Modern science prevailed in my favor! Or so I thought.

Two weeks later the itch was back. And all searches for that scabies colony came up empty. And I was never called to model again.

”You may have won the battle…” I thought. "But you..."

Then I sat down alone and scratched myself.

***

Dhaaagh

Some days won’t be forgotten. They can’t. They will forever exist in the collective minds of those unfortunate enough to have lived through them. They’re the days that people will remember every minute detail of and go to great lengths to describe where they were when tragedy struck.

Where was I when Dhaba Joy closed down?

At Eric’s.

I was sitting on a barstool in his kitchen listening to some obscure band I’d probably never hear again when I received an unbelievable text from Susie:

“Michael! Today is Dhaba Joy’s last day in business. I’m going down there right now.”
“wat.”
“I don’t know if it’s true, but I’m not going to risk it."

She was right. Even if there was no legitimate reason to believe that it was Dhaba Joy’s last day in business, the mere possibility warrants dropping whatever you’re doing – no matter what – and going to get a few almond butter cookies.

Eric drove me down there within minutes and I had no idea what to expect. The sight upon arrival was disheartening. There was a line extending far out the door and it looked like the rumor might have been true after all. I couldn’t fully comprehend the situation... How could Dhaba Joy have been closing all of the sudden? Why hadn’t it been announced? What was I supposed to do? Why didn’t I bring money?

Inside, I learned that the rumors were indeed true, and that employees had been notified the very same morning. They sent some text messages, which very quickly spread to the entire Austin vegan community.

Three employees sent text messages.
Those three friends notified three other friends.
The information spread like a virus for vegans.
Soon the entire Austin vegan community knew about Dhaba Joy’s demise.
The virus-infected vegans came to Dhaba Joy like zombies groaning for grains.

Something came over me. Suddenly I felt the cravings. I felt the surge of hunger in all my organs. My veins were coursing with with I felt destiny in my bones. Every cell in my body was telling me to order more cookies. It was complete bodily autonomy.


***

The Pilgrims Rode Vespas

There are few things worse than spending Thanksgiving alone. One of them happens to be spending thanksgiving alone with scabies. I was not thankful at all.

Everybody I knew was leaving town to go spend the holiday with their families.
Back when I worked at Lunar Mart, I met a girl named Olivia. She was a short, cute girl from New York who was in town with her mom for a funeral. We got to talking and she told me that she was saving up to travel across the country when fall came. When I told her about my similar plans to quit my job travel, her mom offered to buy me a train ticket up to New York to tag along with Olivia. She never did, but months later, Susie got an e-mail from someone looking to house this person named Olivia Fancytramp.

Could it be?





***

Fort Worth It

Since we’d become friends, Susie had been telling me about this place near Dallas called “The Spiral Diner” that serves the most vegan Philly cheese steaks. For months I brushed it off as ‘just talk’ until one Friday evening she was looking at their website and discovered something thought only to exist in the world of dreams.

”Sundays - All You Can Eat Pancake Buffet.”

Our jaws dropped and I Susie kicked her feet, damn near breaking the wobbly living room table. It was unfathomable. Vegan pancakes? On a Sunday? Until we puked? Clearly it was God’s way of saying “Thou shalt hitchhike up to Fort Worth and indulge yourselves into euphoria. That would be so awesome if you did that, you guys.”

So we did. We left Saturday afternoon with our sleeping bags and a couple of oranges. The freeway was loud and violent as we walked along, looking for a suitable spot to stand. An hour or so passed without any luck. Then it occurred to us that if people saw us juggling oranges, they’d have to give us a ride. Just like they did in the old days! We didn’t actually know how to juggle, but it didn’t matter because what we lacked in talent, we made up for in style. Moments later a little girl in pink pajamas showed up behind us, afraid to speak, telling us that her mom wanted to talk to us.

”Are you two okay? You looked like you really needed help.”

And with that, we were off!

It was Susie’s first time hitchhiking, so a couple rides later, after being dropped off in a town I’d never heard of, I tried to impress her by dropping my expert knowledge. “This was a bad idea,” I said. “We’ll never get a ride here.” Twenty seconds later, before we’d even put our stuff down, a truck pulled up and the driver told us to get in. He was trying to make me look bad, and even worse he had the nerve to offer us money.

The bitter wind began to blow when and it was getting dark as he dropped us off, so we agreed to take the first ride that offered. We saw someone waving to us from a Starbucks parking lot, and excitedly ran over to the sketchy redneck with an axe in his trunk. We were weary, yes, but we never lost focus on pancakes. The pancakes were primary.

In Waco, halfway to Fort Worth, we walked into a “Texas Roadhouse,” and filled our pockets and backpacks with free peanuts they had foolishly left in a barrel. I sat around getting dirty looks from people in the waiting area while warming myself, and Susie asked for directions to the nearest university. It was there that we’d seek shelter for the night.

It was cold. It was very cold. When I wished for a scarf and the later found one in the road, I had no doubt that we were on a mission from God. An hour or so later, after trudging through the numbing winds, locked Goodwill dumpsters, and then stopping in a hotel to steal fruit from the lobby, we made it to the dark, vacant university.

”I’m going to check this door.” Susie said.
”Don’t bother, it’s locked.” I told her.

Susie turned the handle and walked in. Fate: 2; Michael: 0

Inside, the fifth floor conference room became our new, spacious bedroom. It was huge, luxurious, and carpeted. We could see the whole city, as the walls were all windows. High class! Moving on up, if you will. But I doubt Jeffersons had never broken into a place this nice. We set up our sleeping bags underneath some tables and struggled to fall sleep with thoughts of endless pancakes racing through our heads.

Right before sunrise, we were startled by a noise from across the room. Keys were jingling and then there was a click…

“Oh, fuck.“

It was the janitor, and he was breaking into our room! We knew we had to get out. He walked in and all those precautions we took to disguise ourselves as chairs didn’t seem so silly after all. We looked at each other, then at the opened door, and then I looked down at the stain I’d left on the carpet from masturbating a few hours prior and I wondered what the police would charge me with if I was arrested. We tried to remain as motionless as possible as we packed up our sleeping bags. I looked at the janitor emptying the trash, and then turned around to see Susie already crawling toward the rear staircase without me. Solidarity my ass. Then I heard a thump from the janitor's direction and turned to see that he was gone too as the trashcan lay sideways on the floor. I think we scared him.

About three hours later we reached the promise land and I had forgotten all about the unbearable time we spent in the cold waiting for a ride. We sat outside the restaurant for what seemed like weeks waiting for those legendary doors to be unlocked...

Honestly, I didn’t know if we were ready. Sure, we'd eaten vegan pancakes before. Tasty ones, even. But neither of us had ever encountered anything so awesome in our lives. What would happen? Then I remembered the bible story where Jesus blinds a man and then offers him vegan pancakes. I wondered what it would be like to hitchhike home, blind and bloated. If we were going to die, I’d decided, at least we could take comfort knowing we’d die heroes' deaths. And if we were lucky, they'd have a designated martyr discount.

Our plan was simple: eat pancakes until they kick us out. And if they didn't, it would be six hours of mindless, self-served indulgence.

Someone waved us in, we pulled out our forks, and it was all over. Bite after bite, plate after plate… Some said we redefined eating. Others said we were cow-people, born with four stomachs and a tail. They didn’t understand... They were eating the tofu scramble. May as well have been the ignorance-is-bliss platter with hashbrowns. They didn’t know enlightenment as we knew it. I felt like we were in the Allegory of the Cave, but instead of them being chained and me showing them shadowy figures on the wall, we were all eating breakfast outside of Dallas and mine was just a little bit better. It must have been at least ten minutes of blurry, agave-covered gluttony. Then I put my second-place Veggie Dog medal to shame when I only finished eleven pancakes. It was tragic and embarrassing, especially for a supposed cow-person. We sat there filled with nectar and fried batter wishing we were dead.

There was a very important lesson to be learned here about hitching to other cities for vegan pancake buffets. It’s awesome. Always do it.

"Do you just…want to go home?" Susie asked me.
”I can’t move.” I told her.

The next day we set out down the highway that would take us straight back to Austin. Somehow - and I’m still not exactly sure what happened- we walked seven miles in the wrong direction. On the wrong highway.

As Susie pulled the juggling oranges from her bag and I pondered the philosophical ramifications of ‘Smell Yo Dick,’ it occurred to me that bible stories never end this way. Then she asked me a question and I knew we would be best friends forever.

”Do you want to just go to San Antonio? I heard they have vegan doughnuts.”

***

Man-Infest Destiny 2: Sorry Susie

I’m not saying I gave my best friend scabies on purpose. No one is saying that. But listen, if your best friend were to get scabies, and her insurance would cover the cost of the 2% Permethrin, and her parents (who hate you/make you eat eggs) were never going to find out because of doctor/patient confidentiality, and the tube did have enough for two treatments in it… Well, it might not be the worst thing in the world if you gave your best friend scabies.

I’m sorry, Susie.

It wasn’t until December that it happened, and she had already been going to the doctor because of some reason unrelated to pregnancy she stopped having her period. She pointed out one day that it wasn’t until months after we stopped having sex that she missed her period and I gave her an STD. We giggled at that. We also split the cost of the prescription and rubbed poison into each other’s backs. BFF.

Two weeks later Susie was scabies free and I still had the little bastards inside me, laying eggs and making my life was hell. Sylvia and I were supposed to reunite for Christmas (at Eric’s new house, where he had a spare room) and there was no way I was going give the parasites (back) to her. I had to find a way to get another tube of the stuff. I checked the Half-Price Books dumpster nightly for DVDs to sell, but I never found anymore than a few dollars worth of trash and I ended up spending the money on blueberry yogurt every time.

A few more weeks of itch passed before the night came. It was the night before Sylvia was supposed to arrive. This was it. It was the last straw. The final battle. Good versus evil. Man versus parasite. I was going to squeeze every last drop out of pesticide out of those old tubes and my skin was going to absorb it. I knew the toxic, cancerous risks involved with putting so much poison into my skin, but I didn’t have a choice. One of us was going to die that night.

I walked into the Eric’s bathroom like a man walking into his own coffin. Inside, I rubbed the cream into my skin harder than I’ve ever rubbed anything into anything else before. I managed to cover my body with what I could squeeze out and then went to bed knowing that if this didn’t work, I had been defeated. I would accept my fate and let them consume my body until I became one giant, melancholy scab of a person. Sylvia would find a new, more durable boyfriend who probably played guitar and smoked cigarettes. And Susie would become best friends with Cute Wheatsville Boy. In time, the two would probably sleep together and he would admit that he had a vasectomy a few years earlier. He would also never pay rent with Scabies. Everyone would be better off without me. I went to bed peacefully that night.

The next morning I woke up uncertain, but alive. I needed a sign to know I’d won. Something symbolic… Something incredible…

***

Tofutti VIPs


I got a phone call from Susie that morning who told me I had to get to her house right away because “SOMETHING INCREDIBLE JUST HAPPENED!” I literally got dressed and headed down to her house, trying to stay calm. When I got there, she showed me the envelope that would forever change our lives. I couldn’t believe what had happened. It was a dream come true. No -- Better! It was a scam come true!

Susie and I had started sending letters to our favorite companies under the unintentional guise of eight year-olds, praising their products and the dietary influence they have on our lives, hoping for coupons for free products. I had forgotten all about the letters until Susie told me we had got a response from Tofutti! The letter addressed to “Michael and Susie” with a Tofutti seal on the corner. I was excited, to say the least. We opened the envelope slowly with precision, as not to damage any possible coupons.

There was a copy of the letter we sent and six coupons: two of them for FREE products. They read “Tofutti VIP” in bold, red letters and they only confirmed what Susie and I always secretly suspected. We were now Official Tofutti VIPs.

That is to say: Very Important Persons.

We rode our bikes down to Wheatsville where we locked our bikes up on the VIP rail, next to the VIP bench, which was held together with VIP screws. We sauntered inside where we headed toward the ice cream section, flipping carts and pushing down every non-VIP in our way. They’d beg us for our autograph, and just a glimpse of those bold, red letters. But we didn’t have time for such things. We had Cuties to devour.

”I would give anything to be them…” They said as I pulled the box from the freezer.

We headed back to the front of the co-op, pushing the lines out of our way, and then placed the Cuties on the moving belt at the register. The naïve cashier scanned the box and told us the price. Susie and I looked at each other, scoffed, and then looked back at the cashier.

”Listen, sweetheart,” Susie said. “We don’t pay for cuties. We’re Tofutti VIP.”

Then she pulled the coupon out of her purse and the cashier’s eyes opened wide and she upside-down crossed herself. Susie tossed the coupon on the counter and we sauntered out of the store, over to the VIP bench, held together with VIP screws, next to the VIP bike rack where we ate our VIP Cuties.

This was very clearly the pinnacle of our lives.

Two weeks later, after we had used both our VIP coupons and were a little depressed about losing our titles, we were surprised to find another letter in the mail from Tofutti. It contained the same coupons and the original letter we’d sent! There must have been an error and they sent us TWO letters filled with TWO free product coupons. That’s when we noticed something else; something that would change our lives and our friends’ lives as we knew them: The serial numbers on all the coupons were the same.

”Um… Susie? There’s a scanner at the library, right?”

***

Train Girl 2

I met her on a train.

I was walking back from the dining car when I first saw Train Girl. I wasn’t sure if she was a girl or a boy, but she was so cute it didn’t matter. I wanted to talk to her... but now?

Now I was in Portland… And it'd been nearly a year since I'd seen her cute, mullet face. Going to Portland was something I'd talked about over and over again, like some sort of celebrity nipple slip. But now I was really there. I was no longer a talkie-talkie, doomed to a life of rolled eyes and unfulfilled dreams... No way. I'd entered the realm of walkie-talkies. A realm where people do what they say they'll do and visit the Train Girls they say they'll visit. I was really, finally there and it was freezing. That didn't matter, though. I was finally going to see Train Girl again and everything would be perfect. I had been anticipating this moment since that infinitesimal fraction of a millisecond she uttered the last syllable of her invitation to visit. I knew that everything I'd experienced over the last twelve months was just preparation for this day... And she was on her way to meet me!

I'd like to say that I didn't know what to expect to when we finally reunited, but I sort of did. Last time, everything I had imagined about our interaction had unbelievably come true (down to her being hungry for bananas!). Then we parted ways and I spent the proceeding months going on adventures and doing everything I wanted... After a while I just expected my fantasies to come true.

So when I saw her and knew we'd fall in love, and knew we'd eat vegan doughnuts until we puked, it only made sense that nothing at all happened like I'd thought it would.

I called her to let her know I was in town and she said she’d meet me there. I pictured an embrace on the sidewalk after running into each other's arms... She crept up behind me and in my terror I forgot to hug her for like twenty minutes. I pictured long conversations about what'd we'd been doing with our lives... We only had time to walk down the block to get a milkshake for no reason. I pictured us getting married inside Voodoo Doughnuts and living happily ever after... Turned out it costs twenty-five dollars to get married!

What was going on? How could it have been any less perfect? I didn’t think it could until something absolutely absurd happened. Something that never actually happens to anyone…

She developed a gluten allergy.

My life was real. Nothing was happening the way it did in my completely unrealistic daydream. It was like watching a really predictable movie, written by and starring someone else. I didn’t know what to think. Did this mean she liked me? What was going on? I had no fucking clue. The line between reality and fantasy had stayed well within the grasp of recognition and we were sitting in a doughnut shop at 11PM waiting for chico-stick doughnuts in downtown Portland.

What happened to my fantasy? Where did the sheer improbability go? Why did my unrealistic expectations disappoint me? These things just happen sometimes.

We talked a bit about books, pacifism, and tentative plans to adventure in the summertime before she gave me a trinket she’d stolen from some mansion or museum on a hill. Then we said our goodbyes and went walking in separate directions. Was this how it would end? Would this really be how Train Girl and Portland concluded? Nothing crazy? Nothing strange? Then I was kicked out of a bar for trying to order a veggie burger. That helped. Later that night I got a text message from Sylvia that proclaimed she could never love me.

…Was this love?

I thought about Sylvia for a while. And every other girl I’d fallen in love with that year who didn’t actually love me back. And that time I went to Food Not Bombs and met Susie. My life could have been entirely different. I could have been sitting in a coffee shop talking about fair trade organic water or something. I would have been an entirely different person with entirely different friends. Instead, I was shivering and confused in Portland with no real plans and a paper bag full of vegan doughnuts.

Even if I was unlovable, my life was so undeniably great.

***

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